We live in a wired world — and a weird time. Not a day goes by that we don’t read an article about how social media and interrupt overload are having a detrimental effect on our personal relationships, rewiring our brains to look like those of cocaine addicts.
It’s an age of unprecedented 24/7 connection, in which Facebook, email, text messaging and other forms of electronic communication have us instantly connected to anyone and everyone around us. And yet, many of us are also experiencing a profound and pervasive sense of isolation and disconnectedness. We skate along the surface of our relationships, having swapped quantity for quality and frequency for depth.
The explanation for this seeming contradiction of isolation and disconnectedness in a massively interconnected world is that most of us have never learned — or seem to have forgotten — how to connect or even what it means to connect on a fundamental level.
Connection in the age of social media is even more challenging when electronic communication — including not only emails and texts but also posts, comments, likes and impromptu online chats — seduce us into believing that we are connecting more deeply than we really are.
While these forms of communication certainly broaden our opportunities to connect and can help us feel more connected, they can also crowd out the more human, meaningful and multi-dimensional ways of interacting, and even create the illusion of intimacy when in fact we are still emotionally disconnected.
So social media is helping to create more connections between people — think of everyone you know with several thousand friends on Facebook. But it’s also weakening those connections, degrading their quality, and in the process, degrading our ability to maintain them.
We’re more connected and yet less accessible…we’re more willing to broadcast the personal details of our lives and yet more guarded about revealing ourselves to those closest to us…we confuse our Facebook friends with our real friends and our social network with our social group.
What’s been missing from our lives is intimacy, which is really just the deeper level of connection that most of us talk about wanting in our personal relationships, but struggle to find in our modern-day lives.
What is Intimacy?
Most people talk about love, sex and feelings when they try to explain what intimacy means to them.
But while intimacy and love often go together, love is not intimacy, and love in a relationship does not guarantee intimacy. And although a sexual relationship may lead to an emotionally intimate one, you can have sex without intimacy and intimacy without sex. So sex is not intimacy either.
Finally, intimacy is not a feeling. Feelings — happy, sad, angry, afraid, hopeful, helpless, calm, proud, disappointed — are transient states of being that exist independently within you. By contrast, intimacy is an enduring state of being within a relationship that happens between you and your partner.
Put simply, emotional intimacy is about connecting and being connected on a deep emotional level to your partner. It’s the sharing of your innermost thoughts and feelings, coupled with all the ways of being together — a glance, a touch, a silent moment, a laugh, or just being present and attentive — that provide the foundation for an emotional connection in a personal relationship.
What do you think about how social media has affected your relationships?
Paul N. Weinberg is the coauthor of The I Factor, an inspirational and aspirational book about connection in the age of social media. The I Factor was recently published to rave reviews and endorsements from some of today’s biggest celebrities, including Larry King, Jack Canfield, Marianne Williamson, and Sofia Vergara. Available exclusively online in print and ebook versions through Amazon.com and the Apple iTunes Bookstore.
© 2012 by Paul N. Weinberg