The other day I was at a doctor’s office, sitting in the waiting room. Whenever I wait, I always whip out my phone. I actually get nervous if too much time goes by without me looking at it.
I heard on the radio the other day that Americans check their phones over 8 billion times a day. And we spend over 5 hours each day browsing the web and using apps. That’s ⅓ of our time awake! Anyways, I was doing my usual email-text-facebook messenger check. Since there were no urgent messages, I systematically began my “scroll through facebook”. That was how I found out that my friend had died. Sitting in the doctor’s stark waiting room. Boom. Just like that. Horrified, I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. My newly deceased friend’s husband had written an ominous two lines: “Ashley was in a car accident on January 1. She did not survive.” My other friend had shared his post, along with a beautiful tribute. Immediately, my eyes filled with tears, threatening to fall and expose the crazy lady (me) in the corner of the waiting room, who was suddenly on the verge of a hysterical sob-fest.
This wasn’t the first time I had learned on facebook that a person dear to me had passed away. It had actually happened a half dozen times or so. Each time I had been horrified, shocked and perplexed. I never had known what to do with myself. I was grateful to be kept in the loop, but what a strange way to discover these very important life events!
Social media doesn’t just deliver bad news. I’ve also witnessed the births of the babies of my sweet friends and family. I’ve watched these babies grow, I’ve seen graduations, holiday celebrations, birthdays and more. It makes me feel connected to the people I love. It makes me feel like I am an intimate part of their lives, because we share in all of these special times on social media. I can like it, love it, comment and post all sorts of emoticons. And they can like my reactions and send me comments and emoticons back.
So then…what is this pervasive emptiness that I feel inside when I spend “too much” time scrolling through my facebook, instagram, snapchat and the like? Why do I feel lonely, sad and disconnected?
Is it because I am usually scrolling while I’m on the run, so I am not really attending to life happening in real time in front of my face? And when I finally get home and can really scroll in an uninterrupted way that feels very satisfying, am I sad because I am sitting alone at my computer, sometimes laughing out loud in my quiet apartment, while my daughter is sitting in her room, alone at her computer?
Modern psychology is saying yes. All of our regular, repeated and even obsessive attention to social media is causing us to be depressed. We need a deeper connection. A real live connection. Face to face. Heart to heart. Human to human. But how? Life moves pretty fast. And we are all so busy!
This is the question Traci Ruble, psychotherapist and CEO of PSYCHED in San Francisco has decided to tackle. Her incredible organization, Sidewalk Talk, is comprised of therapists and trained listeners who set up a line of chairs on the sidewalks along city streets and offer to listen to people talk about whatever is on their minds.
When asked why she created this, Traci offers, “what I want to give everybody is a personal sense of belonging; that moment in time when somebody walks down the street and they wonder ‘does anyone even care that I’m alive? Does anyone even care what I’m thinking?’” Traci firmly believes that good mental health springs from strong communities that have a sense of inclusion and belonging. To her, listening is the first action step necessary in creating this healthy sense of incorporation. Not facebook.
Sidewalk Talk debuted in May of 2015, in an effort to understand the gun violence that was on the news every other week. In San Francisco, 28 therapists volunteered their time and took their chairs out on sidewalks, asking the question “what is going on?” Since then, the concept has spread like wildfire as there are now chapters of this nonprofit organization across California and in Oregon, Texas, Kansas, Wisconsin, Georgia and D.C. Even other countries such as Canada, Portugal and South Africa have jumped on board and have Sidewalk Talk events in their countries. With over 400 volunteers globally listening to more than 1000 people, regular people in each community are learning how to be effective listeners and compassionate community members, effectively resulting in people that can show up for and support one another. Real human connection.
There’s a Sidewalk Talk tour planned in April through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, which will hopefully result in a documentary. Plans are in place for a filmmaker to join this tour, but in order to make this happen, they need your help! Any donation given will go towards their goal of $30,000 to cover the bus, tour logistics and filmmaker.
It’s so thrilling to live in times like these. So many innovations are popping up, and as they do we get to observe how they are affecting us and if we like the results we are getting. Social media has its time and place, but we are finding that it is no substitute for genuine human interaction in real time, face to face. Just recently, we have watched our communities experience an increase in bullying, racism, sexism and general divisiveness. Simply reacting on social media doesn’t seem to be solving anything or serving us. Traci is onto something. And she should know…she’s a trained professional.
We can all practice the art of listening and see how it serves our communities. How will people react when they feel important, included, and most importantly, heard? Will we have a decrease in violence? An increase in understanding and compassion? What does your intuition say?
Mine says, “Traci, if you are reading this, we really need a chapter in Las Vegas! Please let me know how I can help!
PS: For more information on Sidewalk Talk, have a lookie HERE.