Maybe it’s my age or something. Maybe it’s me becoming more of my parents with each passing day. Maybe it’s the current world climate, or the way I consider death to be a very real, tangible possibility today or tomorrow. But my propensity to worry (excessively) about the well being of other people has been kicking in lately. In a bad way. In a (semi-) irrational way. To the point that it can be debilitating for that short period of time.
Smartphones. Computers. Laptops. iPads. Email. Facebook Messenger. Google Hangouts. Skype. iMessage. WhatsApp. Viber. The list goes on and on.
In today’s messy, globalizing, technologically advancing, multitasking, fast-paced world, we’re constantly connected to a seemingly eternal universe of information, and to each other. We’re connected to the ones we love and the ones we hate and the ones that we will never know in any sense of the word. I can send a message to a friend in Geneva, a friend in London, in Paris, in San Francisco, in New York, in Phnom Penh, in Yaoundé, in the length of time it takes my thumbs to move about on the keyboard of my iPhone – which, I’ll say, is not that much time. J I can do this with the click of a few buttons, for free, from the comfort of my desk, my local coffee shop, my daily bus ride, or in the middle of a lengthy statistics lecture. I can successfully communicate with my friends and family at any time in nearly any place and expect to receive a message back.
Now, let’s examine that last part: expecting to receive a message back (assuming that the message compels a response). I like to think that I’m a reasonable person. I wait a good amount of time for the response, allowing for a varying time range depending on who you are and the topic of discussion. I know who will respond within five minutes and from whom I shouldn’t expect to hear until next week. I know that my sister will respond immediately to a video of pug puppies, but conveniently “forget to respond” to a question about how her math class is going.
But there are some instances, when I don’t hear from someone within 24 hours, where Messenger’s Active 23h ago brings up my latent anxiety, releasing the monster perpetually lingering just below the surface. It’s that instant where my brain involuntarily jumps to the worst possible possibilities. But even as rationality takes over, remnant unease remains. In these few in-between hours, I wonder if my brain is simply programmed around loss and death. Perhaps this is just me.
Still, the response lets me know that they’re alive. I’ve clearly passed the stage of – “oh, they’re not answering because they don’t want to talk to me,” or “they must be upset with me,” or “hm, they must not have network.” No. I’m at – “SOMETHING BAD MUST HAVE HAPPENED.”
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Kind of. It’s more like – “well, I hope nothing bad has happened.” …repeating over and over and over again in my head…I hardly find that any better.
Where does this come from? This bubble of latent, and sometimes not so latent, anxiety and worry. Worry, when this other person is simply going about living their life. Yes, my friends and family simply have lives. Lives where responding to the multiple messages on their phone or email or Messenger is not a top or only priority. Being disconnected is something that we strive to do in preserving mental health, sleeping better, creating and maintaining real human connections, improving focus, gaining time, and life balance in general. This should be an admirable trait, to live unconsumed by digital connection, instead of shackled by a relentless need for connection. So when we’ve come to depend on it, to classify it as part of daily life, as a guaranteed mechanism to reaching another person, but possibly also exacerbating an underlying paranoia, does it become damaging?
On the one side, I’m convinced that heightened anxiety runs on both sides of my family. Fine. I’ve learned to cope with it in various ways: yoga and exercise, a balanced diet, regular pampering, reading, hot showers, acknowledgement of the importance of rest and leisure. But more generally, where does this tendency to worry come from? Is it related to a projected ‘maternal instinct’? If not, what is it? Is it beneficial manifesting in this way? Is this normal? Or am I the extreme? How much of my reaction is shaped by the current social and political world forces? How much is driven by fear? How do I separate the rational from irrational reaction? When is it valid to worry? Would it help if I made greater efforts to disconnect, making my world just a bit smaller?
Whatever the answers to these questions, I’ll just be over here, monitoring the Active 23h ago, hoping for the update, awaiting your response.