As I sit here at my friend’s cafe between travel plans, my face is plastered to this screen — between illustrating and writing this blog post — I realise how much time and effort is put into connecting with virtual strangers and how little there is of true connection. I found that travel opens the doors to meeting people from around the world, and I absolutely love building those bridges. In the Philippines, where I grew up, we take pride in closeness of family…yet we don’t speak to each other like we used to. Whenever I travel back, catching up with old friends is a must; although many now have their own partners and family life to deal with – so it takes a bit more effort. Ironically, it takes less effort to keep in touch with friends across the globe.

Effort. That’s the sad part about existing these days; it has become an effort to meet, to spend time together just to talk about nonsense. Somehow, in a city where people are literally piled on top of each other – we are on our phones more, sitting in traffic more, watching TV…exercise becomes a routine rather than something enjoyable. My big brother shared an article the other day: ‘The Disease of Being Busy‘ – reading it hit home like a crazy typhoon. I have changed a lot in my life over the years – not watching or owning a TV, avoiding news and politics, driving less, shopping less, simplifying…

But I have to be honest, I do not feel more ‘connected’ – despite all the lifestyle tweaks. Having left office work to travel and discover purpose, I would catch myself often glancing at my phone or checking out friends’ latest posts. What is connection, really?

We seem happier to ‘like’, comment, message…and have forgotten what it is like to dial a number just for a chat. Many of us would be kidding ourselves if we said we did not expect a response to a text message within a couple of hours. Our technology, for all its greatness, has somehow also contributed to our impatience. Messaging has created a virtual barrier where communication can be totally misinterpreted.

Our communication tools can also create awesome links, especially when asking for help from thousands of people around the world. Our technology has two faces, but neither has taught us to practice patience.

Even if I am on the verge of monetising this blog, along with Instagram and YouTube, where being active on social networks is a ‘must’, the masses of ‘screen time’ did not feel right. Upon realising that my thumb was becoming too much of an expert at ‘scrolling up’ – I decided to delete the mobile Facebook apps, and resorted to logging in less frequently on my laptop. Yes, this included deleting Facebook Messenger. I figured that if friends really wanted to get in touch, they would find a way, and I knew that a few days with no visible activity online – I would just disappear into the mist. I notified friends to email me instead if they wanted to get in touch. This was tough; some people are just not the e-mailing type, some friends and family prefer Messenger because it is instant. I did not go extreme and disable my account, I merely wanted to regulate use.

This is where exercising patience comes in. Email gives us a choice to step back, reply on our own time, read and review. Although guilty of this, I don’t believe instantly replying to an email is beneficial. One can actually take time to read a message fully on a screen, without blue bubbles popping up every few seconds. And best of all, you just have to have faith that the message was delivered.

At the office, people expect replies within a few hours and can spend all morning replying to emails. I stopped this practice very early on, and started waiting a day or more before responding, picking up the phone when my emails were becoming conversations. Besides, is more human to use our voices! There’s less room for misinterpretation, someone will instantly know from the tone of your voice if you are having a good day (or not), and it is also more respectful.

My findings from just a week of not being on Facebook or Messenger is that very few people are actually making the effort to make contact. There are some lovely friends that gave me a nudge to see how I was doing, but generally – everyone is more preoccupied with their own stuff or busy with their own lives, or perhaps watching each other from afar as observers, rather than actively engaging. The result is that I do not have messages to respond to, have less expectations, and am able to give myself more time to focus on the present moment…whether I am alone or with someone. This does not mean that I belittle the connections kept alive online; I miss my friends halfway across the world. I miss my family on the next continent…but maybe it is good to miss someone, and check in now and again. It’s a feeling that reminds us that we are human.

If you find yourself sitting in the company of others but your face somewhat resembles a mobile phone, put it down. Look the person in the eye when you speak to them. Let your souls connect. Maybe this doesn’t work for everyone, but try it…you’ll be surprised at how good it feels and how out of practice we are at speaking to each other. I’m that type of person that would rather hold pages of a book than a Kindle. I would love to live in a place where people still walk to each others’ homes just for the heck of saying hello, trade stuff and skills instead of money. I like slowing down and looking around…I feel out of place in this fast-paced GDP-lead society. The thought of sitting in traffic drives me insane – but if that’s the effort I have to go through to see, BE WITH, and connect with friends and loved ones, so be it. 

Patience. Connection. Love. That’s all we need in this life.