"Online, we easily find 'company' but are exhausted by the pressures of performance. We enjoy continual connection but rarely have each other's full attention. We can have instant audiences but flatten out what we say to each other in new reductive genres of abbreviation. We like it that the Web 'knows' us, but this is only possible because we compromise our privacy, leaving electronic bread crumbs that can be easily exploited, both politically and commercially. We have many new encounters but may come to experience them as tentative, to be put 'on hold' if better ones come along. Indeed, new encounters need not be better to get our attention. We are wired to respond positively to their simply being new. We can work from home, but our work bleeds into our private lives until we can barely discern the boundaries between them. We like being able to reach each other almost instantaneously but have to hide our phones to force ourselves to take a quiet moment.
"Overwhelmed by the pace that technology makes possible, we think about how new, more efficient technologies might help dig us out. But new devices encourage ever-greater volume and velocity. In this escalation of demands, one of the things that comes to feel safe is using technology to connect to people at a distance, or more precisely, to a lot of people from a distance. But even a lot of people from a distance can turn out to be not enough people at all. We brag about how many we have 'friended' on Facebook, yet Americans say they have fewer friends than before. When asked in whom they can confide and to whom they turn in an emergency, more and more say that their only resource is their family.
"The ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy. We text each other at family dinners, while we jog, while we drive, as we push our children on swings in the park. We don't want to intrude on each other, so instead we constantly intrude on each other, but not in 'real time.' When we misplace our mobile devices, we become anxious — impossible really. We have heard teenagers insist that even when their cell phones are not on their person, they can feel them vibrate. 'I know when I'm being called,' says a sixteen-year-old. 'I just do.' Sentiments of dependency echo across generations. 'I never am without my cell phone,' says a fifty-two-year-old father. 'It is my protection.'
"In the evening, when sensibilities such as these come together, they are likely to form what have been called 'postfamilial families.' Their members are alone together, each in their own rooms, each on a networked computer or mobile device. We go online because we are busy but end up spending more time with technology and less with each other. We defend connectivity as a way to be close, even as we effectively hide from each other. At the limit, we will settle for the inanimate, if that's what it takes."