I’m relatively certain that these days, most of us do most things online. Clothes shopping, Christmas shopping, etc. I don’t even remember the last time I actually went to the grocery store besides a few quick trips for a single item, and I usually don’t even do that. My life is very different than it was twelve years ago when I had just had my first baby, and I used the mall as a place to go to get out of the house, meet up with my mama friends and drink coffee while my little one played in the play area. Technology has made it hard to maintain physical and emotional interactions and has gotten in the way of all of the things that used to lead us to meaningful connections with other humans. We did this to feel connected to each other and to feel like we weren’t alone in what can seem like a very lonely time for some mothers. Those times saved me in a lot of ways. My question is, how do we keep human interaction alive in such a digitally driven world?
So here I am a few weeks ago, doing what was once very typical for me but is now completely foreign. I’m at the mall. My youngest is five now, and he is with me. I do a bit of shopping in this strange place that no longer seems familiar and promise him that if he cooperates, we will go to the play area, and he can play for a while. This is all new to him. I don’t know if he has ever been to the mall. His childhood has been filled with experiences much different than the mall playdates of his older brother (who is now almost 13). We make it through the stores that I needed to go to and headed to the play place. Not much had changed, the carpet was the same, the equipment was the same. I remembered the drill, fondly. I helped my son take his shoes off and found my spot on the padded bench near the entrance. My son was ecstatic and ran off, immediately, to play with some other kids that were there. As I am sitting there, scrolling through my timeline, I had a thought. I thought to myself immediately, “I miss this.”
No, I don’t miss the grungy carpet or the sticky vinyl seats or the screaming toddlers who didn’t want to leave. I miss the connections that we used to have with others regularly that we no longer have. I miss human interaction. I miss putting on real clothes and meeting up with friends to walk our strollers around the mall while we feed our kids giant pretzels and vent about everything that has been going on in our lives. I miss talking to people and hearing other people’s voices instead of reading every “conversation” that I have via text message. I miss seeing a cashier’s smile when I check out at a register and casually chatting about the day ahead. I genuinely miss these things. I sat and thought about this for a while, contemplating how and when the times changed so much that something that was once so familiar had become so foreign. At what point did convenience become so important that we decided to trade the majority of our real human interactions for it? Did we not realize the emotional affects that this technology would have on us as human beings who crave and need and thrive from social interactions? So how do we save these human connections? It seems to me that the less human interaction that we get, the more that we need it.
After I thought about the “why?” for a while, I begin to think to myself, “How can I change this?” I also wondered, “Can we go back to the way it was before?” “Is there an in-between that gives us the social-emotional interactions that we need but allows us the tools that do make our lives so much easier?” I came to the conclusion that there has to be. You see, my five-year-old has never known a time when there weren’t smartphones and grocery delivery. The thought of that frightens me. It makes me very afraid that he won’t know how to have these interactions and connections with people, and I really want him to have those experiences.
So, what am I going to do? I’m taking a few steps back. As I sit here typing this in preparation to post it on social media, I am figuring out ways to have the best of both worlds. Keeping human interaction alive in a digitally-driven world is so important. I’m not going wild and promising to give up my Instacart delivery. That is extreme. What I am promising is to make sure that I consciously make time to make connections and interactions that are sometimes inconvenient. To take my kids through the checkout at stores, to smile at people as we pass on the street, to pick up the phone and call people instead of just text and to make sure my children do the same on a regular basis. Oh, and to go to the mall and have a pretzel and a coffee with my friends.