The Razor’s Edge, by Madeleine Richey

This month I’d like to issue you a challenge. It doesn’t sound very hard, and in fact, I don’t think it is very hard at all.

Can you put away your cell phone, laptop, iPod, and any other electronic devices for a whole day? This may sound like something you’ve heard before, but let me explain why this is so important.

Have you ever noticed that when we are in public the people around us are so ‘connected’ to other people that they are disconnected?

When I take classes on my college campus there are often hordes of students walking the halls, waiting outside doors, or sitting at desks while they wait for class to start. What these two thousand or more students have in common is that they aren’t really there.

Sure, they’re walking down the hall, waiting outside a door, or maybe sitting at a desk, but instead of paying attention to their surroundings, which is as simple as watching where they are walking, or talking to the people around them, they are wrapped up in electronic devices: cell phones, laptops, iPods, tablets –anything and everything to avoid making contact with the people who are standing right beside them. Why? Because we don’t know how to communicate anymore.

Communication is a lost art. In this day and age we can stay connected to the people in our lives, read the most current news, and use video cameras and other gadgets to watch our houses while we are away, at any place and any time. We are ultra-connected. With text, Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social networking sites, we are able to speak with someone across the globe within seconds. So why can’t we speak to someone face to face?

When I bring an electronic device to campus, I bring it for the sole purpose of texting my mother or sister when I need a ride home or arranging a place to meet up. After seeing the way the other students were so wrapped up in their world of social media, I purposefully stayed away from electronics so that I wouldn’t fall into the same trap. Standing outside the door, waiting for class to start, I am surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to my presence.

They’re not doing it to be intentionally mean; instead they’re using those devices as a crutch. They don’t know how to talk to someone face to face—introduce themselves, strike up a conversation. So, instead of putting themselves in a situation in which they are uncomfortable and that they don’t know how to handle, they use their electronics to avoid it altogether, which would be fine if it were not for the fact that they still cannot communicate with the friends they already have. I know many people who can talk if it is over text, Facebook, or some other form of instant messaging, but when it comes to speaking with someone face to face they don’t know what to say. How do you start a conversation? Once the first topic gets old, how do you introduce another? It’s a real problem in today’s world. We can connect via internet, but when it comes to actually communicating in person we can’t do it.

That’s sad, because it means that our relationships bottom out so much faster. You can only reach such a level of intimacy over the computer. How will our generation cope with a real relationship? How will we cope with marriage?

In marriage you don’t have the option to communicate solely through the internet. Married couples see each other every day, sleep side by side, and eat at the same table. Communication is vitally important. If that fails, so does the marriage.

That’s why it is important to put aside all our electronics and become approachable again. When you stand with your back against a wall, eyes glued to the screen on your phone, you send out a signal that you are closed—unapproachable. It says “Stay away from me; I have no interest in talking to you.” Suddenly, in a place where we should be making friends, we are strangers among strangers, just blank faces passing by each other, each new face unrecognizable from the last.

So please, put down the phone, the laptop, iPod, and everything else, just for one day. Get together with a friend, even if it is just seeing a movie together or taking a walk in the park. Enjoy the sound of their voice, their physical presence, and become closer. Walk up to a stranger, introduce yourself, and strike up a conversation. Or you can just stand there, without your phone or laptop, and smile. See if someone says hello to you. And if they don’t, you can be the person who says hello to them.

We have to learn to communicate again, and that starts with putting aside the things we lean on as a crutch. People are the most important things in our lives—it’s family and friends that make life worth living, and unwittingly, we’re destroying those relationships. In a world where we have the ability to be ultra-connected with everyone, we’ve become strangely disconnected. And as a result we’re lonely.

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own. Some of them have faces we recognize–the faces of family and friends, maybe even the face we see when we look in the mirror…” Visit her blog at http://yourstorydieswithyou.blogspot.com

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