Being connected certainly has had a tremendous impact on the way we communicate, but not all of it is good. In many ways, it has affected the way we communicate with people in person. An always-on lifestyle can get in the way of this – providing distractions during conversations and time spent with your partner or friends.
Getting to know someone in person is affected as well. Online communication takes away a good deal of information we use in face-to-face interactions. Online conversation leaves out facial expressions, inflections in speech and other cues that help us to understand what a person is really saying – as well as gauging the other person's interest.
Yes, online communication is easier – and for some people this is a great thing. But over-reliance on it becomes a detriment, even to the people it can help in small doses. It keeps distance between people that can stifle a real relationship from forming. Vulnerability is something that helps to create a strong and deep relationship (including friendship). But without this distance, it can be easier to just walk away. This is generally known by both sides and so vulnerability is not usually part of an online friendship. When switching to a face-to-face encounter, one might be more open to being vulnerable, while the other is not, and this can hurt and lead to a sense of betrayal or disappointment.
People can and do have different online personas, too, and what connects online might not connect in person, again leading to betrayal or disappointment.
Meeting people online isn't a bad thing, and for people who are shy, more introverted or even have non-traditional schedules, it may be the best way at times to connect with someone. But capitalize on what you already know. Shared interests in music, sports or movies? Get together to watch or listen or experience one of these together. Take a walk together over some coffee or tea. These sort of interactions can be low on stress and high on fun that can really help the relationship – whatever it might be – along.
Of course, the always-on lifestyle can be a problem with a relationship already undergoing stress. Fighting by texting can quickly get out of hand – partially due to the distance the technology provides in the interaction. It means increased safety for each to act and take things to a higher level of arguing. Texting should be kept to catching up with each other through the day, and showing an interest in the other person's day, or even light planning of some kind of get together with more discussion after. Details can easily be lost in texting.
If you do decide to take part in the National Day of Unplugging, take the challenge. But the best thing you can learn from it is all the things you can do when technology doesn't rule your life.