Connected…when?

I’m in the midst of reviewing Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives for City Journal. This book, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, discusses the science of human connectedness, and why social networks dictate a lot more about human behavior than we tend to think.

It’s a fascinating book (though I’ll save the review for City Journal!). There is definitely some relevance for how we spend our 168 hours — though there is a bit of a conundrum, too. Friends make life more fun. So do spouses and (if we’re lucky) colleagues. These connections can make us healthier, too! However, when you’re building a Career with a capital C, and raising a young family, it can be tough to find time for friends, or even meaningful interactions with your colleagues or spouse. How can you fit it all in?

The answer, I believe, is a special form of multi-tasking. Namely, you build in quality time while doing other things that require different parts of your brain. The most obvious example is sharing a meal with a friend. You have to eat anyway, so you may as well use that time to deepen a connection. Other good choices include exercising with a friend, volunteering with colleagues or your family (at least with somewhat mindless work like stocking a food pantry or spiffing up a classroom), carpooling with your spouse, scheduling play dates with kids whose parents you really like, or even going to the grocery store at the same time as a friend.

All these things allow you to focus, to a large degree, on the other person, while doing something else that can facilitate conversation and bonding. This makes them different than a more awful form of multi-tasking like trying to have a conversation with your spouse while you check email. This is not forming a connection. If anything, it’s breaking a connection to behave as if the person in front of you matters less than the pixels on a screen.

Update, 11/19: The review ran at City Journal’s website today with the title You Say Potato, I’ll Say Potato.

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