My morning runs are always predictable. I open the front door and curse the damp, cold, West Coast winter. I start a sluggish jog through my tree-lined street. I make a left turn and pick-up speed heading through the park. My mind and my body come to life as I hit Vancouver’s famed seawall.
And then it happens: I see another human. My excitement grows as I approach the on-coming runner. I am on the precipice of a real-life interaction with another human. As I approach, I lift my eyes ready to meet their gaze. But sure enough, like countless times before, the connection is not returned. They keep running focused on the path ahead. I feel invisible.
This process repeats itself several times before I eventually give up and become another Vancouver zombie runner. At the end of my run, I walk the final few blocks before returning to my condo and another day alone with the screens. If I’m lucky, I’ll get glimpses of other humans over video calls. But often the other human is distracted by one of their other screens, or they have no idea where their camera is. We aren’t exactly gazing deeply into each other’s soul. I feel empty.
The pandemic has made it painfully obvious how much we yearn to be connected to other humans. For those who live alone, like me, the isolation has at times been crippling. In the early days of the initial lockdown, I remember going weeks without any physical contact with another human. I felt dead.
The screens have helped us keep in contact with friends and family. But it seems that with each new ‘social’ app we’ve become even more disconnected from each other in the real world. Isolation forced us to reach out digitally, since we didn’t have any other means for connection. But we’ve used the pandemic as an excuse to become even more reliant on the screens. We think we’re being more connected, when in reality we’ve become addicted.
What is going to happen when the restrictions are lifted? Are we going to reemerge in a joyous rapture and connect in endless revelry like a Gold Medal celebration on Granville Street? Seems unlikely.
Where we’ve gone wrong
We are all so desperate for connection and validation. So why are we checking our phones so religiously? The digital likes have become easier than real-world authentic connection. This temporary dopamine hit is less threatening to our fragile psyches than saying hello to a passing human. We are getting our fulfillment from each new notification. This is sad AF.
We leave our homes tethered to our idiot devices. We ride transit or wait in coffee line-ups with our eyes glued to the flashing screen. When we don’t have our phones, like when out for a run, we’ve forgotten how to acknowledge other humans without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. It’s time to reclaim our connection and validation through the eyes and hearts of other humans.
It’s been a year since our lives were altered. Around that same time we heard glorious proclamations that the Universe had thrust us into this chaos to teach us a lesson. We would emerge through our isolated suffering a more connected, compassionate and loving world. This was our once-in-a-generation opportunity to lift our heads from our screens and connect to each other.
I want this to happen, but I fear we’ve missed our opportunity for realigning how we connect with each other. Let’s not miss this opportunity for growth.
Real, authentic, human connection is scary. I know, I never used to seek it out. As a caged, closed, uncommunicative engineer, connecting with other humans was never something I sought out. I also never appreciated how important it was for my reverence of life.
But I learned how to crawl out of my cage and allowed myself—including all my fears, insecurities and doubts—to be seen by others. Because to connect with others, you have to allow yourself to be seen. You have to have the courage and curiosity to look up and see what is possible in sharing a fleeting moment of human connection.
I know for me, these brief moments have made all the difference during some very dark days over the past year. This can be unsettling, but there are a few ways we can help each other.
How to Connect
Next time you go for a walk, try leaving your phone at home. Allow yourself the time to be fully present with the humans and nature around you. Same with going out for dinner or coffee with friends.
Do you really need to bring your device? Turning off notifications and keeping your phone on silent mode are great ways to reduce distractions.
When you come across other humans, be brave and look them in the eyes and smile. Don’t have any ulterior motive other than acknowledging another human having the same complicated experience of life as your own.
They are also starving for connection. When eye contact is made just nod and smile while thinking: “I see you, I honour you, I respect you. I know you’ve had a hard year. Me f’n too.”
Set boundaries with the devices. Keep them out of your bedroom. Put them into airplane mode an hour before bed. Don’t touch them until you’ve done your morning routine.
The screens don’t come with user manuals, we have to establish our own. The screens are here to stay, but we must be smarter than the smart phone.
I took me years to appreciate how connecting with other humans was linked to my happiness. This past year has been hard on everyone in countless different ways. But let’s not miss this opportunity to evolve into more connected and compassionate communities.
Let’s lift our gaze from our screens, allow ourselves to be seen, and connect with others. We are trying so hard to stay connected, but the connection we crave on the other side of our screens. We aren’t seeing the people standing right in front of us.
The other humans crave connection just as much as you do. Let’s break the trance and embrace each other with warmth, compassion and courage. Let’s fearlessly step into this opportunity for transforming how we interact. Let’s seize this opportunity to evolve.
I feel hopeful.