David Ryan Polgar, on finding the sweet spot of connection this Thanksgiving.
Your table is likely to be full this Thanksgiving. Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and perhaps some roasted Brussel sprouts. You make room for the bread coming out of the oven, and set aside space for the turkey nearing perfection in the kitchen. A pumpkin pie is waiting in the wings.
The table is almost complete. Your mind is racing as you try to remember the proper table setting for your finely polished silver. Where does the soup spoon go? Where should the dessert fork be? Wanting the table to be just right, you stress over all the small details. Your table is becoming a culinary Tetris; every item has its exact location to form your masterpiece. Are you forgetting to put anything on the table?
You should–your smartphone.
We often think that Thanksgiving is all about the food. It’s not. The food is merely a conduit for conversation. It should get us to open up, and that’s what usually happens. Somewhere over the second helping of stuffing and the third helping of wine, we spill the proverbial beans. We share our fears about the present and our hopes about the future. We prod and pull and laugh.
Thanksgiving is about connection.
Connection is such a hotly debated topic these days. Unfortunately it is still framed in an either/or concept: either you are tech fundamentalist or a Luddite. As time goes by, though, the issue is becoming more nuanced. And while we may disagree of how tech is used, the goal is the same: to find the sweet spot of connection that maximizes the human experience.
Our smartphones and tablets are absolutely amazing at expanding the breadth of connection. Personally, I love the ability to easily communicate with people across the globe and loosely stay in touch with a smorgasbord of friends I’ve made along the way.
Where our devices come up short, however, is in the depth of connection. So while I may communicate with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people through my devices each week, only a handful know me on more than a superficial level. There aren’t many that I can imagine sitting at the Thanksgiving table.
The Thanksgiving table is all about the depth of connection. Smartphones on the table keep us on the surface, providing a useful escape hatch for boredom or anxiety. Real conversation is harder–a combination of awkward pauses, uncomfortable topics, and reading nonverbal cues. But like that green bean casserole on the table, it looks messy but can be downright fantastic when done right.
Some of our fondest memories stem from Thanksgiving. But nobody remembers Multitasking Mom or Digital Dad; we recall the warm feeling of close family and friends slowly unraveling the mysteries of the world around overflowing food and wine. And if the food is plentiful and the table is willing, we may begin to unravel the greatest mystery of all—you.
Photo: Britt Selvitelle / flickr