You gotta read this

Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.” — William Powers

$T2eC16VHJHgFFl-7tVUuBRjJetK3Qg~~60_12I really couldn’t put it down. When Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age arrived last week, I promised myself I’d give it a quick glance and return to it later. (So many other books in my need-to-read stack!)

But I got hooked after the first few pages, then ended up dragging my chair closer to the fireplace, where I stayed and devoured several chapters until dinner time.

Here’s part of the review I wrote on Amazon.com:

In Hamlet’s Blackberry, author William Powers has managed to put into words all the vague feelings of disconnection and superficiality that I’ve battled ever since I began living and working behind a computer screen. Citing numerous studies and reputable sources, he articulates the emptiness many of us are experiencing — even if we’ve got hundreds of Facebook friends and followers on Twitter.

“The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live,” Powers writes.

Powers nails it when he explains that what we’re missing today — what we long for — is depth. Depth in our relationships. Depth in our work. Depth in our daily activities. We’re skimming the surface of too many people and things; drowning in the shallow waters of over-connectedness.

But Powers offers a balanced view of this growing problem. In particular, I like the way he reminds us that technology is an incredibly useful and amazing tool. He’s not suggesting that we totally unplug and head for a lone cabin in the woods.

Instead, he approaches the topic as a philosopher and a humanitarian, asking us to examine WHY we’ve become reliant on our gadgets at the expense of deeper relationships and personal freedom. He asks us to consider WHAT is really dictating our lifestyle — the online “crowd” (as he terms it) or our inner compass? He invites us to reexamine creative folks throughout history who’ve accomplished masterpieces and major achievements — despite the various distractions of their time.

Most important of all, Powers’s writing style is crisp, clear, and direct, making it easier to digest difficult material from important philosophers, from Socrates to McLuhan. A surprisingly easy read, this is an important book and ought to be required reading. But those who need it most will probably dismiss it. Their loss.

For another excellent spin on this topic, read Melissa Joy King’s essay, “You Are Wasting More Time on Social Media Than You Think” 

How to be a good friend

You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” — A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

friendsWhile writing an article on friendship last year, I found several terrific resources on the topic. Among them: Shasta Nelson‘s new book, Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating Meaningful Circles of Girlfriends.

A former pastor, Nelson was a life coach who often found herself helping clients form new friendships when they moved to new cities or entered new life stages. Drawing from that experience, she launched GirlFriendCircles.com, a popular friendship match site for women.

As Nelson reminds us in Friendships Don’t Just Happen, many women have fantasies of what “ideal” friendship looks like. In television shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives, she explains, “friendship is always highlighted as the one relationship that is constant through life’s ups and downs.”

But real-life friends sometimes fall short of Hollywood role models. Real-life friends might criticize or compete, push boundaries, neglect to reciprocate or support, never initiate plans, show up late, or forget to send birthday cards. In other words, real-life friends are human and they will disappoint us.

Not to worry. Nelson’s book provides a map for creating healthy, mutually satisfying friendship circles — and encourages us to ask ourselves what we’re seeking (or expecting) from individual friends.

DSCN0152“Knowing that most friendships aren’t forever invites us to forgive ourselves for those relationships that didn’t live up to the fairy tale,” Nelson writes. It also helps to understand — and value — the various roles that different friends play in our lives. Listing five categories of friendship, from casual friends to committed friends, Nelson explains how each category enhances our well-being.

Nelson’s book encourages us to ask ourselves what we’re seeking or expecting from our friends.”

According to sociologists, most people re-evaluate their friendships every seven years. (Yes, there’s even a seven-year itch for friendship.) Citing examples from her own research, Nelson also explains why some friendships take a nosedive or don’t even get off the ground.

Understandably, introverts can get stuck when it comes to transforming acquaintances into comfortable friendships. But the whole process of making new friendships while maintaining old ones is a challenge for all of us — especially if we lack free time for social activities beyond work and family.

“Time together is the primary ingredient for forging friendships,” Nelson told me in an online interview. “Unless your time together is automatic — meaning you’re both paid to show up at the same job or both attend the same church — there is no other way to foster a friendship without someone initiating that time together. Growing a friendship requires initiation. A lot of it. Repeatedly. And it doesn’t need to be 50/50 with two people taking turns! If you want a friendship then you should be ready to reach out and invite several times.”

We live in a world where relationships shift. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, we will have to rebuild community around us. — Shasta Nelson

0-4Last year was a turbulent, pivotal year for me, starting with my mother’s recurring trips to the ER and culminating in her permanent move to a nursing home. More than ever, I needed to make an effort to have some fun — even in the midst of my family’s medical drama. I needed time with friends.

As much as I appreciate my writers’ groups and book clubs, I still found myself craving conversation that wasn’t about writing, career goals, or the novels I’ve read. I wanted some old-fashioned girl talk; the nurturing energy of women. So I followed one of Nelson’s suggestions and made a mental list of new and old friends with whom I’d been meaning to reconnect, then contacted each with a social plan. It did me a world of good.

Last month, for instance, two of my neighbors and I met for a holiday kick-off dinner. (One had just moved in last year, but we rarely glimpsed each other across the street.) Over a bottle of wine at a local restaurant, the three of us spent several hours getting to know each other better. We had such a nice evening, in fact, that we’re talking about starting a monthly dinner club, perhaps including other neighbors too.

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Friendship sustains, validates, comforts, and supports us through life’s challenges. Writing for U.S. News & World Report, Tom Sightings reported that relationships with friends bring “longer lasting feelings of happiness” than entertainment or educational activities. “Yet paradoxically, the number of friends you have on Facebook or any social network has no bearing on how happy you are,” Sightings wrote.

Other experts claim that having close friendships can decrease our risk of cancer and other health crises. Shasta Nelson even suggests that friendship can change the world, and I believe she’s right.

If you’re ready to build healthy friendships in 2014, treat yourself to a copy of Nelson’s book. You’ll be rewarded with more than you bargained for.

Here’s to a wonderful new year of friendship for all of us!

Photos and original artwork copyright Cindy La Ferle