I was working in our study one early January morning, gazing out the window and noting our lack of snow. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticing a young woman sprinting across the front lawn. Our house is set far back and not super easy to get to; unexpected visits aren’t something that happens often. Our doorbell isn’t even plugged in.
I noticed her jacket was from a local college. After trying our silent doorbell, she knocked urgently on the door. Mentally grasping for excuses as to why I couldn’t buy anything made me slow to answer. The door squeaked familiarly as I peeked out; I sensed urgency in her expression.
“I need directions,” she began. This was not at all what I expected. Immediately, I wondered why she didn’t just check her phone. Didn’t she know? It’s 2019; Google will light the way.
“My phone died and I need to get to the highway,” she continued.
As when I encounter a lost toddler at Target, I felt responsible to comfort her. “You aren’t far, you’re like barely lost!” I promised. Consciously softening my expression, I walked her through steps to get to the highway she needed a few times. She really wasn’t far.
When I finished my third performance of “Directions to the Highway,” complete with hand motions, I had to stop myself from hugging her and giving her my portable phone battery. Don’t be weird. Don’t over-help. I repeated this to myself.
I am an Enneagram 2, over-helping is my nature.
As she ran back to the road, the door creaked shut and found myself surprisingly impacted by this interaction. It had been years since I had given a stranger directions. I also am not known for explaining things verbally in detail, sometimes I leave out important details.
I hope she made it.
Technology is beautiful in how it simplifies our lives, but what do we lose as we strip the human element out of increasingly more parts of life?
“I have my phone, I just need the address.”
“I’ll Google it.”
“Just drop a pin, I’ll find you.”
Will my kids know what to do if their phones die? Will they be willing to ask for help? Will they know how to find good people to ask?
Perhaps we have gotten so comfortable with the independence birthed from our constant state of connection, we have forgotten how to collaborate. Do we mistake social media chatter for actual human connection? Maybe we have gotten so complacent in interacting behind the safety of our screen, and we have neglected the potential for growth when we work together.
Turn on the new for like 5 seconds if you don’t buy that we have gotten really bad at working together. As much as my phone is a gateway to connection, it is also a barrier. It physically comes between connecting with other humans: arm extended, phone blocking eye contact, neck craned down, thumb scrolling.
Lamenting the loss of human interaction isn’t a new concept; this is the consequence of mobile convenience. But are we doomed to a new normal that includes lack of eye contact, tepid handshakes, unnatural silence? Let’s not let technology dull our ability to communicate and suppress our innate human need to connect fully with another person.
The unexpected interaction that sparked my thoughts was so simple, if I’d blinked, I’d have missed it. But the fact that I was so nostalgic after she left my porch warranted a second look. Interactions like this one pinpoint what I might be missing in my quest to streamline my life.
So instead of always searching for the answer on Google, maybe I’ll try asking a person more often. I have to get better about eye contact. And honestly, Google Maps takes me on some really terrible routes. It also never reassures me that “You’re not far, you can’t miss it.” I’d much rather get directions from someone who knows which way to go because they live nearby.
And because maybe, hopefully, the person giving me those directions might know a great breakfast spot along the way that Google would have missed.