Presence

May 26, 2012 at 9:54 PM | Posted in Psychological Wellness | 1 Comment

What do you think of when someone mentions the word present? Or how about presence?

Presence is a problem I see emerging in many areas of life – or rather, the lack of presence. It isn’t something that has always been a problem, either. I recently picked up a calendar based on the book A New Earth. The book isn’t an environmentalist manifesto, as the title implies. Instead, the author’s main idea is that we need to be present in our lives.

At first, that probably sounds stupid. Of course I’m present – this is my life and I’m living it every day. That was my first reaction, too. But presence goes beyond simply being. In order to be present, we must be aware of our current surroundings and mentally in the present time. That’s actually not that easy to do. Really take a minute and think to yourself. When you’re at work, how often are you thinking about not being there? Maybe you’re thinking about what you’ll eat for dinner, or that road trip you’re taking this weekend. It’s a simple distraction like that which has the ability to sap productivity away from you in the present. If you’re sitting at your desk thinking about something else, you’re not focusing on the work at hand. Or if you are in a meeting but you are texting with a friend, you are not really present at that meeting. Your mind is not present.

Great, you say. Who wants to focus on work, anyway? Well, it goes beyond that. I’d like to take Facebook as my example. Facebook is the poster child for the social networking movement, of course, but there are so many others – Twitter, Foursquare, simple texting. Social networking is one of the ways in which almost everyone’s lives have been adversely affected. Facebook teaches you not to be present – it even encourages it. I’m not talking about you being on Facebook while you’re at work, either. I’m talking about what Facebook has done to normal, pre-technology relationships. Facebook is a good way to stay in touch with people, sure, but it should never replace the primary medium of communication between two people. I see it happening everywhere. I know there are people who would rather interact through Facebook before any other type of communication. You might say that’s normal if it’s just an acquaintance, and perhaps you’re correct on that. I’m talking about spouses and best friends whose relationships transfer in some way to Facebook, willingly or not. I think most people have had an experience where the additional connection with a person on Facebook adversely affected their real relationship – or at least made it awkward (take when you are Facebook friends with a family emember).

Because most people seem to opt for the “easy” way of being friends with someone (that being completely on Facebook), the relationship decays. But it’s more than just that. It’s the effectiveness of relationship-building that’s at stake. In the old days, before Facebook, if you met someone you wanted to see again, you would have to work up the courage to get a phone number and possibly work a time and place out together. You would do this face-to-face or via phone call. Not only does this put hair on your balls, but it is infinitely more effective than simply making an event on Facebook or sending out a text message. Everything is different in communication online. In person or on the phone, people do not have the option to simply ignore you. People seem to work on a sort of “micro demand and supply” law. If you post a worthless comment on Facebook, it is easy for someone else to come along later and post a comment or click the “like” button. However, because it was so easy and simple, that communication has little to no real-world, real-relationship value to either of you.

We can always look to the world of business for answers. I’ve said this before, but it’s my main talking point on things like this. If we attempted to conduct our day-to-day work via email and Facebook, how much do you think we would get done? I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that the only way to effectively engage clients and other professionals is either face-to-face or on the phone. You can sit all day waiting on a single email, or you can get on the phone and talk for five minutes and move forward. If we don’t sacrifice our livelihoods to things like Facebook and text messaging, why would we sacrifice our social life? After all, what is life if it is not to be shared with others?

Presence then, in this case, is presence in the physical sense. Instead of interacting entirely with disjoint Facebook posts, why not call someone up? When you’re trying to set up a meeting or a get-together, get on the phone. It’s simple, it’s fast, it’s personal. People like it more. Even when you put someone in a situation to decline an offer or otherwise respond negatively, people still like it better. Just ask, or even think about it yourself.

To drive the point home, I’d like to compare Facebook, my least favorite site ever, to Meetup, which is a little better. People who defend Facebook say things like

  • It makes being friends easier
  • It increases connectivity amongst people
  • It helps you stay in touch

I contest that all it does is ruin your friendships, or at the very least makes no impact at all. Meetup, however, is a very different website. Meetup is like Facebook for people who live in real life. People who are present. Here is the process: I join a meetup group that has, at least nominally, the same interests as me. The group schedules meetups. It could be a comedy club, a hiking trip, or just a night out at the bar. You RSVP to a meetup, then show up at the scheduled date/time/location. That’s all there is to it. The internet ceases to be a part of the dynamic at that time, and the old-fashioned relationship-building begins to take place. At the end of the night, I may have made two or three new acquaintances and maybe even scored a second “date” as it were. If not, I try again at a different meetup. It’s as simple as that.

Contrast that with Facebook. When Facebook was originally created, it did allow you to “branch out” and meet new people. Privacy settings were significantly lower because there was a bar for entry to the site – namely that you had to be in college and provide bona fide proof of such. The site was a means to create events between people that already knew one another and people still had enough real-life skills and manners to make these things happen. Once Facebook opened up to the whole world and privacy settings went through the roof, the connectivity of Facebook diminished rapidly and the quality of interaction and content fell through the floor. Facebook self-imploded, in my opinion, and it cannot do what it purports to be able to do.

Presence is also a mentality. It’s an attitude. Everyone knows that our actions today have consequences tomorrow. When I say that, I’m not sure what you think, but I think about how if I were to go rob a bank I would be in jail tomorrow. That’s a simple enough concept. But it actually runs a lot deeper than that, and you don’t really realize it until you think about it very explicitly (at least I didn’t). Every second of the day and every action you take is a vote to what kind of future you want to have. Are you keeping it clean in the kitchen? Congratulations, you will not gain weight. Are you sitting inside writing a blog post on a Saturday afternoon instead of going to the Tacoma Jazz Festival to meet people (like me)? Congratulations, you will continue to be lonely. You get the point. This concept is exceptionally powerful when applied in reverse – simply look at a long-term goal and decide what you should do today to achieve it.

None of the things I have written in this post should constitute ground-breaking news. I simply wrote it as a way to organize my thoughts on the matter and to perhaps provide the reader with a new perspective on the subject. No matter who we are, where we are in life, or what our condition, we can always benefit from being present. Recognize that every second counts and every action, right down to being a lazy pile on Friday night watching movies, will affect your future. Presence is a very powerful concept that, when appropriately observed, will generate a lot of positive outcomes in your life. There are also a lot of things in life that cannot be achieved without presence. You cannot make a living or make a friend without being present. You cannot achieve a long-term goal. Nobody ran a 5k by texting or tweeting or posting on Facebook that they wanted to run a 5k. You cannot expect to accomplish much if your chosen means of communication do not take advantage of presence. It seems that our lives get more and more complicated and fast-paced every day as people take advantage of new technology and new ways to communicate. It can be easy to get lost in instant gratification or miracle solutions. At the end of the day, nothing can replace a good night out with your friends. One evening together is more than the equivalent of a million Facebook posts. One phone call is better than a hundred text messages. We didn’t get this far without the basics – why abandon them now?

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1 Comment »

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  1. Fan-fucking-tastic post! I really needed to hear this. I haven’t been present in a while. I was always thinking ahead to the future. Now I see that my presence needs work. 🙂


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