Reflection and Communication in the Age of Social Media

I marvel at my daughter's experience this year with Global Citizen Year in Ecuador. She has taken the year before college to do service with a remarkable organization that places high school students in villages in foreign countries for nearly a year of service work.

As she has been adjusting to daily life in Ecuador over the past five months, we have had the opportunity to catch up fairly regularly via Skype.

This is a wonderful opportunity for a parent; and I hope for a child as well. But everytime I get off of Skype with her, I find myself wondering - is this a mixed bag? It is certainly a different bag than when I was younger and living abroad - before email, the internet, and wifi. In the "analog" days of travel, you couldn't quickly just update people with your experiences. In fact, you had to have the experiences, reflect on their meaning and then write or type a letter, send it in the mail, and wait three or four weeks before somoene would get it.

During that time, there was a lot of solitude - time to explore deeply the relevance of the experience you were having. I think it forced me to dig deep, to understand myself, and to process things before I shared them, as opposed to sharing them in order to process them.

Today's youth face a very different world that way, and I find myself wondering what its benefits are and what its limits are.

I often marvel at Thomas Jefferson or John Adams, who would spend months at sea to get to Europe. They would bring their dog-eared copies of Aristotle or Rosseau with them to pass the time. They didn't "post" much, but when they did, it was historic. And nation changing. Their thoughts had great weight and relevance. Certainly these were remarkable men living in a remarkable time. But they also had the discipline and habit of reading, reflection and writing. I wonder what we might be losing in the age of hyperconnectivity.

These pondering led me to share the following reflections with my daughter. I thought you might find them of interest as well:

Forgive me for being overly formulaic here, but, as I said, I've been thinking a lot about you and your experience and trying to guess what you are learning at a deeper level -- which comes through to me in some of your blog posts, but is hard to capture on Skype with all the chaos of our respective households.  So here is what I've been reflecting on.  How does one process and share what one is learning?  I think it is a four step, iterative process:

Experience. This is what we are doing every day. Experiencing stuff. At home, it is usually the ordinary. Abroad, each day is somewhat extraordinary. Some experiences are joyful and wonderful. Some painful. Some lonely. When abroad, we have a tremendous variety of experiences. These experiences give us a bunch of "data" about the world and how it works. And how it affects us.

Reflect. Once we have all this data, all these experiences, we've got to figure out what they mean to us. So this means we have to find time to think about why we observed what we did, or thought what we did. Your thoughts on access to education, for example, that came from your experiences in Quito teaching English. Fantastic insights that were gleaned from different experiences. And part of what makes you a "global citizen" - you are learning to see broader complexity and nuance in our world. I loved your question the other day about why municipalities are so inefficient. This is a great observation and a wonderful question. One that is very relevant to everyone. Is there a way to organize ourselves that takes pain and frustration out of our daily existence? What would that imply? Great questions stemming from your experience, and your reflection on that experience. This is a critical part in our learning. This is the world of mindfulness. Making sure we don't just pass through life on the fast line, but pause to really learn from what we are experiencing.

Interpret. This is, I think the most important piece of the puzzle. What meaning do we give to the experiences we are having? What insights does this give to us? How does it fit (or not) with what we have experienced before? What are the puzzles that confront us? The things that frustrate us? The things that inspire us? The things that make us happy? That make us sad?. And perhaps more importantly, why? The why gives us insight into who we are and gives us clues to who we will become. We can compare and contrast our experiences now with our past experiences and see patterns emerge that help us figure out what might really be happening. This is the unknown and exciting world of original thinking. Where we come up with our own ideas, our own theories, our own inspirations and can then test them with others to see if we are on to something, or just a little bit crazy.

Share and Connect. Once we have these insights, the real joy is to share them with others. To let them know what we are learning and to get their insights in return. This is the connection. This is when others laugh and cry with us. When they say "I never thought about it that way before". It is when our experience can become not only transformational to us, but helpful to others. And, of course, its where we draw comfort and solace in our times of difficulty. And that, in and of itself, is another experience worth reflecting on. I often learn much more about myself after I share with someone what I am thinking and get their reactions to my thoughts. Then I have a chance to reflect on that conversation and learn more. It is a wonderful cycle.

My hope for you is that the work you are doing, the journaling, your new discipline of mindfulness is providing you great opportunity to explore who you are, what you care about and how the world works.  I suspect your journals will be a treasure trove not only of what you've done (the experiences) but what these experiences are teaching you about yourself and the world.  

My fear for you is the old fashioned fear.  That the ability to connect so quickly via the internet to everyone, that in difficult moments the temptation is to just seek solace from one of the many smiling faces on your computer who can provide comfort or a good laugh, and so it becomes easier to share and connect, but the ease and speed with which that is done makes it hard to really reflect and interpret.  Of course, it is often through sharing and connecting that you can figure out what the heck you are experiencing.  So it is more like a circle that goes around and around than a straight line.  

What am I saying here, and why?  I just want you to know I love you and admire what you are doing this year.  And I am hoping for you that you are being able to really process what you are experiencing.  I am eager to hear what you are learning and look forward to making sense of it with you.  But I know that this is hard work - it takes time, it can be painful.  So I just want to encourage you to keep it up. This is work I continue to do daily myself - it is where I draw my inspiration from, how I determine what is important, what is meaningful, and what is worthy of my spending time on.

I'm still processing this myself, but thought I'd share it with those of you who are interested. Hit the comment button below to share your thoughts.