You had One Job, Facebook – and you blew it.

Because I can at least remember how I processed thoughts when I was awash in idealism, I can imagine a young Mark Zuckerberg envisioning his Book Of Faces that would allow people to be connected from around the world. Even people living in podunk little towns, he would have said (in my imaginary prequel), can reach virtually across the globe to clasp hands with another dreamer from Katmandu, or a seeker from Sicily.

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The Jew and the Arab would get to know each other as people through the sharing of hummus recipes. Catholics and Protestants would discover a shared humanity seeing photos of each others’ kids and grandkids. Whole generations of children would grow up “color blind” because digital proximity had made them neighbors with others of different races and ethnicities.

PROTIP: No one really has 1,207 “friends”.

I know, because that’s the official count of my personal Facebook account as of this writing — and that’s after pruning and trimming and deleting as friends those I know who have died, but live on in the Facebook alternate reality.

In reality, I have one husband, three children to whom I gave birth, and two children I got as a wedding present. I have six grandchildren. I see roughly twenty patients a day in our clinic, and there are somewhere just over 100 employees where I work, of whom I see about thirty on a regular daily basis — and that’s only because I am social and chatty and wander around to see people.

Of my high school class of 400+ students from forty years ago, I keep in touch regularly with probably ten, even though I rarely see them in person. I have cousins and in-laws that I rarely see, but like to keep up on the milestones in their lives. I have college classmates and former co-workers and colleagues from throughout my career — let’s estimate fifty of those, even if I may see them on an average of once a year.

There are neighbors that I wave to more frequently, and friends from running groups with whom I have shared races and weekends and injuries and highlights — I would guess twenty of those with whom I am still close, since I don’t run anymore. I remain friends with the people in the town where I raised my kids — and friends of those kids, now adults and raising children of their own.

Realistically speaking, that’s about all I can truly tell you I feel a connection with. The other 900 names show up on my friends list because I hate to be exclusionary, or hurt anyone’s feelings. Even if they wouldn’t have been caught dead talking to me in high school and their political views are abhorrent to me today, I can “unfollow them” so I don’t have to see the things they post, but I cringe at cutting them off as “friends”.

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We’ve forgotten what friendship really means.

Friends have relationships, and relationships are, with few exceptions, best nurtured face to face, with precious time devoted to each other. Connections are built when we can hear the inflections in each other’s voices, and notice each other’s body language.

In substituting real friendships with sterile, digital approximations, we have also given away talking to each other on the phone in favor of texting each other. For heaven’s sake, “sexting” is even a word — and no one can tell me that anything meaningful related to sex can be accomplished with your thumbs on the screen of a smart phone.

In fact, we shy away from actual physical encounters with friends. We tell ourselves we are introverts when really, it’s just downright inconvenient sometimes to go hang out in real time with another human being, when we can sit on the couch with no pants on and text each other.

We’re becoming socially isolated instead of connected, Facebook.

We have whole passels of “incels” meeting in dimly lit chat rooms and nodding avatars at each other, whining about how women won’t have sex with them and therefore should be killed. We have virtual assemblages of conspiracy theorists who huddle behind blue screens and encourage each other in ideas that would be shot down in eight seconds in the light of day.

We have record numbers of people reporting depression, anxiety, and disillusionment with life. And for that, we have therapy by text. You don’t even have to put pants on to go talk to a counselor, where they can notice subtle differences in your appearance, your voice, your speech cadence. You can receive mental healthcare via text messages now.

Kid don’t go out and play, wandering like a pack of puppies from one friend’s house to another’s and finding each other by the telltale pile of bikes thrown down in someone’s front yard. They stay inside, behind their bedroom doors, and fall prey to monsters posing as other kids online, who promise them a sense of belonging and love.

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Our strength is that we are relational creatures.

Since the dawn of time, we have gathered around each other’s fires and passed along each others stories, trading goods and pieces of our culture with those nearby but not of our tribes. We are made for a sense of belonging to a group, and so we slide into groups online, like the pasty faced nitwits who never realized their actual faces would be seen and photographed as they Heil Hitler’d themselves through the streets in Charlottesville or in Washington, D.C.

And I end up with people on my back stoop — virtually speaking — calling me a “libtard”, a “snowflake”, a “cuck” and a “feminazi”. I assure you, no one would say that to my face without backing up several steps immediately afterward. I can bring the crazy.

And that right there is what causes me the most pain. I have friends — people who are IRL friends — who disagree with me politically or over which Iowa sports team I elevate — who get downright nasty. OK, honestly, I’ve done it myself. The firewall of my computer screen allows us relative safety in acting like jerks without getting our blocks knocked off. But our feeling and our souls don’t know the difference between virtual name calling and schoolyard taunts hurled at mega decibels in our faces.

We need, more than ever, to rethink what “connection” means.

Our democracies are at stake, our families, and our communities. We need to think critically about the affects on our psyches and those of our kids, and our expectations for each other going forward. Technology is a fabulous thing that has propelled us forward by leaps and bounds, but I opine that it is our connection and collaboration with each other, in real life relationships, that have wrought the most amazing marvels in our history.

For more thoughts about connections and relationships, you might like this:

Living in a World Wrapped up By Women

Optimism – Not Just for the Young Ones

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When I was a teenager, my plan was to become a journalist, and more specifically, a war correspondent. My goal was to write about the women, the children, and the civilians affected by war so powerfully and so eloquently that the world at large would take notice. “No more,” the world would say. “We cannot continue on this way and allow the innocents to be slaughtered.” And war would stop on the planet.

This year in June, I watched my oldest grandson graduate from high school, and I listened to the speeches of the class valedictorians. Proud, hopeful, and full of fire, they knew beyond a doubt that they were going to grab hold of the world they were inheriting and make it better.

The students who survived the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland rose up like phoenixes with courage and grit and set out to empower a generation to make changes to our electoral process and our society as a whole.

While feeling at once tenderly protective of the young ones, and refreshed by their energy, I am aware of a smug cynicism that sneaks into the back row of seats in my consciousness. I feel disappointed with myself for the mental smirk. I tell myself that the young, idealistic activists will become tired, and jaded, and as pessimistic as I have become. We see cynicism as a measure of maturity and wisdom, and consider optimism to be naivete.

Psychologists believe that cynicism arises from not trusting others. Fechenhauer and Dunning showed in 2010 that study participants can become more trusting if they have more practice in actually trusting other people – if they are in situations where others behave honestly and sincerely. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? No one can control how other people are going to behave.

I have often said in my own life that I don’t need to worry about trusting or not trusting anyone else, as long as I feel like I can trust my own response to whatever another person does. The burden is on me to respond in a way that matches the kind of person I want to be. Michelle Obama’s famous injunction “When they go low, we go high” is a mantra for choosing a positive response.

Our input shapes our output. I deactivated my Facebook account in the week before the midterm elections because I could tell that the constant barrage of negative posts on all sides were eroding my naturally positive demeanor and spilling over into my offline life. I became more irritable in traffic and at work. Within ten days of my social media fast, my iPhone told me I had decreased my screen time by 38 percent. I noticed I was more patient and better able to let others do their own thing without feeling the urgent need to swoop in and let them know how wrong they were.

Nomadic photographer Anne McKinnell tells us that she found it easier to see the negative things around her in her early career, but she felt that changing when she made the decision to photograph beautiful subjects like nature and wildlife. She reminds herself with each shot to look specifically for the good, and in doing so, she writes that she has begun to notice the beautiful in the rest of the world around her. She was happier, and it became a positive feedback loop of optimism and adventure.

So I find wandering back toward the sunny fields of my buoyant youth. Along with the usual daily news, I seek out writers who tell me about the heroic, the selfless, the brilliant and the generous. Bill and Melinda Gates are bringing together talent and innovation from around the world to revolutionize sanitation in places where people still sicken and die from human waste born illnesses. Americans will see a record-breaking number of women in the incoming Congress in January, as well as the first indigenous and Muslim women. I continue to be aware of the serious challenges facing us, but controlling what enters the little computer of my mind has improved my ability to confront them with confidence and courage.