Constantly Connected: Is our internet reliance stealing our humanity?

Social media is a driver for my side gig, my blog, and a crutch for relationships that may thrive in a more vibrant way if I did not rely on apps on my phone for the upkeep of those relationships. That is a difficult reality to face, especially when I promote the value of human connection regularly. Rather than scrap-booking or printing photos, I rely on moments or “on this day” features. Rather than texting my friend to ask how her kiddo’s party was, I will just watch her timeline for photos and make a meaningful comment. I check my events tab rather than writing down birthdays in my calendar.  Perhaps social media is the equivalent of cliff notes for human interaction, it brushes the surface and hits the high points but lacks the emotion, connection, and depth for which we are all yearning.

If you talk to me long enough, I might hop up on a soap box about screen time, social media, and how they rob our children of their capacity for human interactions and engaging in meaningful ways. Recently I have been digging into the concept of human connection and our need for tangible, face to face, and meaningful relationships and interactions. In conversations with clients, I have explored the reality of loneliness, the damage of the comparison trap, and how social media can drive home our irrational need for perfectionism. We can easily find ourselves trapped in a battle to save face and match our real lives with our profile. How much do we lose in this fight? I fear that we are losing our capacity for connection, but also ourselves.

In the online article “Why We Are Wired to Connect,” Matthew Lieberman discusses how crucial social connection is to our ability to thrive as healthy humans:

Across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  When this happens in childhood it can lead to long-term health and educational problems.  We may not like the fact that we are wired such that our well-being depends on our connections with others, but the facts are the facts.

We are herd animals. The pattern of behavior associated with screen time and social media obsession leads to isolation and loneliness. If you take a few moments to read my post on Finding Your Tribe, you will learn the impact of meaningful human connection on our brains. Positive and meaningful, face-to-face engagement with loved ones promotes the release of oxytocin in our brains and promotes emotional regulation.  Loneliness and isolation promotes cortisol and leads to our body’s suffering from the ill effects of long term stress. Medium.com has a great article on this topic, this excerpt from The Science of Human Connection and Wellness in a Digitally Connected World says:

Today, modern communication and technology has forever changed the landscape of our human interaction, and as such, we often decline without this type of meaningful personal contact. Today’s highly individualistic, digitally remote, and material driven culture is now challenging all of this, as we turn to science to unlock the mysteries of human connection and wellness in a digitally connected world.

Read that again. We decline when we neglect our need for human connection. Human connection and wellness are closely intertwined. We thrive in community. We rely on human connection. We are starved for physical contact. However, I think we are fooling ourselves into believing that the accessibility of engagement through social media can replace human connection. According to a study conducted in 2002, it was found that online interaction does not replace face to face human connection. In fact, online interaction increases loneliness.

Y’all…Myspace was still a thing in 2002. We have fallen deeper in our reliance on internet based interactions since 2002. While this day in age is progressive, I am not convinced that the current level of remote accessibility should be viewed as merely progress. I have no doubt that the climbing rate of depression and suicide is impacted by our reliance on social media and subsequent neglect of human connection.

As I mentioned from the start of this post…I rely on social media and the internet for my side business, for promoting my blog, and for networking in general. I believe that when utilized in a healthy manner, digital connection and having the world at our fingertips can be beneficial. Access to information and broadened audiences is great! However, as Aristotle says, “the man of virtue is the man of balance.” Virtue can be dangerous when exhibited in extremes. I believe this concept…the art of balance…needs to be applied to our use of social media and digital connection.  The risk lies in the moments when our identity, self-esteem, and worthiness come from our online persona. If our children’s communication is reliant on a keyboard and their faculties are lost in the face of in-person conversation, there is a problem. We need to check in with ourselves (& our families) and practice the pursuit of balance and focus on fostering human connection in today’s widely isolated culture.

One of my favorite words is Ubuntu, a South African term that has no English equivalent.  In essence, Ubuntu means we are all connected. We are all in this together. My freedom is wrapped up in your freedom.  My happiness is wrapped up in your happiness. While we have more readily available information about the struggles that people face on a daily basis and are arguably more aware of pain, hunger, war, genocide, and other evils of this world than we were 20 years ago…we also have the firewall of distance to protect us from emotional involvement. We are removed and desensitized.

We can do better. We are capable of promoting increased humanity in our lives. The Facebook Experiment was a study conducted in Denmark that revealed that people who took a break from social media demonstrated improved well-being and increased positive emotions. This does not have to be permanent, but perhaps avoiding your phone or social media for the first and last hour of your day. Engage with your family. Plan a dinner date with your friend rather than browsing their page for updates. Hold eye contact with the people you talk to. Avoid filling moments of discomfort with mindless scrolling. Mindlessness, disconnection, isolation, comparison, and negative coping skills can all be fostered through unhealthy habits surrounding social media engagement and reliance on digital connection. Engage with living, breathing humans…it will benefit you and those around you!

Take a few moments and watch this video (link below,) this precious child on NBC DFW’s “Tell Me Something Good” segment was encouraged to greet, hold eye contact, and shake the hand of each child entering the school on this particular morning! We need more of this simple, but so meaningful, human connection.  https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/TMSG-Kindergarten-Class-Shake-Hands-Smile-Every-Morning_Dallas-Fort-Worth-483569731.html

 

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