Why Eye Contact fell flat on its face
I have to believe that when the universe starts speaking to you, you should listen. Recently, everywhere where I look, I seem to be having deja vu. Its as if the ghost of an old breakup keeps popping up everywhere I go, online and off, haunting me with whispers and reminders of an old project of mine: Project Eye Contact. It was a lofty idea for a girl like me. A project I created and set up via Google Groups back in September 2009. It simply challenged people to put down their technology for 30 days by finding in-person substitutions for a text, email, social media message and the like, to connect with someone in person and with eye contact, rather than via a device. Simple right? Necessary even? Nope. Apparently, it was just way ahead of its time. The world was not ready for it, shoot, I was not ready for it either. I bombed at my own stinking challenge. If I recall I made it do day 11, or maybe 12.. However, I was so passionate about it, ask anyone who knew me, that it was all I could talk about- for a few weeks anyway. I challenged anyone and everyone in my email contacts, in person, and in my newly created personal Facebook account back then, to join the project and become, are you ready for it? an Eye Riser. Clever huh? I thought so. I had been having a growing pit in my stomach feeling that things were just moving so fast, changing so quickly, connections were easier than ever, plans could be made in a snap. I could carry on four different conversations with four different people using four different devices, all while still being physically together and chatting with my husband and children, well sort of chatting, more half-listening, half-contributing; perhaps quarter-contributing is more accurate…and it all just started to feel so.. disconnected. Then, one morning something happened. And for the first time in a long time, I put my devices down and looked up.
While watching the Today show that morning with my then 17 month old, at the time youngest, child on my lap playing with my laptop as he loved to bang the keys, and very likely, while simultaneously texting or trying to set up my notifications for Facebook on my brand new iphone 3g, I watched a piece with Matt and Ann discussing with a guest social science expert how the rate of our expanding plugged-in modes of communication and devices increasingly coming between human to human interaction, projections for our youth, and the upcoming generations (possibly an actual study was quoted, though I couldn’t recall exactly where or what so don’t ask) if no changes are made, particularly with the phenomenon of texting, (remember this was before the texting and driving topic swept the world, even before Oprah’s No Phone Zone had gained momentum that year) would be left literally without the skill to make eye contact while communicating. Shocking. The art, the skill, the natural evolutionary inclination I suppose, of connecting with the person you are interacting with by looking into their eyes will virtually be lost, or from a scientific perspective, will evolve into- well, a non-essential component of communicating. I was half-listening, half playing on my computer, or perhaps it was my phone when my ears perked up at that last sentence. I was stunned. In what seemed like a flash I thought of my children, only three of them at that time. I thought of each of their beautiful, perfect faces as babies and how one of my favorite things to do with them as infants was to stare deeply into their eyes and they would delightfully stare back into mine as I would tell them stories and sing them songs. Moments fluttered through my mind of times my grandmother and some wonderful school teachers of my youth had stressed the importance of making eye contact to build trust and self-confidence. This can’t be so! And just like that, the project was born. With Stars in my eyes, I set out to make this my purpose. It died a swift and quiet death a few months later after I had already long forgotten about it, and thus did not renew the Google group’s membership service. With its failure to gain any traction, as most people who heard about it gave me the proverbially pat on the head with a, “What a nice idea Julie good luck!”… only to never bring it up again, I too let it fade from my thoughts. It was easy enough to do, as it was quickly replaced with the ever-growing distractions of life that continued to creep in through all sorts of new devices and platforms. Hello ipad, Kindle, Twitter, new Facebook layout, newer Facebook layout, the Facebook App, Apps in general, Instagram, Vimeo, Vine, Snapchat, and the list goes on, and on.
This post is not an, “I told you so” or “look at how wise I was once for trying to start a revolution for communication, too bad you all weren’t on board” with my nose in the air and my tongue sticking out mockingly. No, no. This is a humble acceptance of my own failure. A little older, a little wiser, a little farther down the road… and a lot more disconnected, than even the I of 2009 would have feared could be possible. Here I am, here we all are, its 2014. These days we are as plugged-in as ever, the “don’t text and drive” campaigns have become so widespread, they have even been adopted by the cell phone carriers, much like the warning labels about cancer on the packs of cigarettes. Social Media has (perhaps) seen its peak, and has also seen a waning. Devices are in the hands of every member of every household. Our overly distracted, technology-fueled, plugged-in world has become the stuff of jokes. Think the recent Hashtag skit from Jimmy Fallon on SNL. Genius comedy. Everywhere I look, up pops another post, retweet, blog and movement to squelch the flames that have begun burning out of control. Like a cool glass of water in walks sites like Hands Free Mama, or this post about taking the challenge this year to “divorce your phone”, which is a wonderful read by the way. http://jarridwilson.com/why-im-getting-a-divorce-in-2014/#comment-27666
I can either be bitter at the traction my (ya right) cause is now finally getting, and cry out, ” hey, I thought of that FIRST! Whaaaa.” Or, accept that I was as much a part of the problem for why my little project failed as anything or anyone… and that it wasn’t time yet. We weren’t ready yet. We were still too enthralled by all the new shiny ways to “stay connected.” We didn’t need some buzz kill ruining that for us. Pff. Those types. (rolls eyes) It’s true what they say. Its hard to go against the grain. I admit it. I also admit that perhaps I gave up too easily on the purpose behind the project. I was quick to abandon it because it wasn’t popular, and well, I was just so damn distracted.
However, everything has a time and a place, and so, I humbly and gracefully accept and embrace that now is that time. Yes, I can’t ignore that as my newsfeeds are increasingly cluttered with “live simply” concepts, it appears that now is when our world is ready to come together collectively, to learn and share ways for us all to un-plug, and in doing so: reconnect. So, although I wish selfishly very much that it might have been my little project that had sparked the fire, I still strongly believe in the idea. It still frightens me today, perhaps more-so than ever; certainly more than in 2009, which seems like decades ago from a technology standpoint, when the idea was just a seed, that if we don’t all keep this discussion going, eye contact will be just one of the multitude of human connections we lose altogether. So, please, click the post above. Read it. Go and check out my previous post with a link to another great movement, Becoming Minimalist. And please, for the love of all that is important, go and discover all of the wonderful things that Hands Free Mama has to offer at her website and in her new book, http://www.amazon.com/Hands-Free-Mama-Putting-Perfection/dp/0310338131. There are so many, many more people out there right now who feel the heat. Discussing this very topic, at this very moment. Its not like it was in 2009. Living better and being better to each other is now at the forefront of almost everyone’s mind and I am so very grateful for that. It has re-kindled the spark in my heart for something that has always been important to me. I was a Social Science major. I love the study of peoples and cultures. I can’t help it. I love thinking about this kind of stuff. But I too easily forgot about it. I have been kindly reminded by the universe. I am so thrilled that its time has finally come. No, I won’t be reviving my project. It was never very fleshed out anyway, nor was it ever much more than the seed of an idea anyway, and that seed has grown and spread. Plus, there are plenty more now much wiser, more articulate and creative out there doing the work, and doing it splendidly. I am just happy this time, to wholeheartedly say that you can count on me to genuinely participate, eyes wide open. I created this blog in part for that reason. I have not lost my passion. Due to events that life sometimes brings, and did indeed bring to my family in the years between 2009 and 2014, I have newly committed to living a life less distracted, more present, and to making more meaningful connections. I try hard to still be an Eye Riser in my daily life and interactions, and I will continue to enjoy, promote and share the efforts of others who feel the same to get the message out. People are important, technology is too. Find a balance. Don’t let technology steal your connection to the people right in front of you.
And so this time I don’t shout from the rooftops as a fickle and faulty pioneer, I stand behind others braver than I, and echo.
Unplug, just a little.
Here are a few links to my favorite sites and blogs on the subject. Check them out, and then find or create your own too. There are plenty of us now, let’s make this right. We matter to each other too much to lose our human connection to the grip of technology.