Although technology connects us in some ways, it has done much more to disconnect us over the last half-century or so. Freeways, commuting, school busing, television and most recently, handheld devices – all of these have resulted in a society unlike anything in history. Most of us don’t know many of our neighbors, we don’t often see our own families face to face. Most of our co-workers become strangers when the work day is over. Commuter churches are disconnected from their neighborhood.
I’m not a Luddite. Decades ago, when the Web was brand-new, I began to write about how access to more points of view was becoming a positive force in the world. I still believe that, even as Internet
gossip also does so much damage. Media domination by a handful of mega-corporations whose mission is to sell eyeballs to advertisers is not good for anyone. Diversity in viewpoints can drive creativity.
Research is uncovering fascinating insights into how our tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact – and even eating together – can act below our awareness to calm our automatic stress responses. Yet those means of communication, which are so important, are almost completely missing from social media. It is no wonder we are desperately eager to stay superficially engaged, even when we know how dangerous distracted driving is.
I myself don’t feel a great need to pay attention to text messages and so forth while driving. Don’t get me wrong – I feel the urge. But I rarely have trouble resisting it. So I’ve asked myself why this might be. The answer from my gut is that I have a good social support network – people I meet with regularly, face-to-face. These are people I trust deeply, from church, work, and our crisis intervention team. Social support has a very strong correlation to resistance and resilience under pressure. My intuition is that for people who build and maintain that kind of support, it is far easier to resist the urge to see and respond to every text, email or posting.
When we don’t have strong social support, we often buy into the myth that just getting away from the sources of stress will give real relief. However, what really happens is that our “fight-or-flight” response just changes into different kinds of fighting (seen any online political fighting lately?) or fleeing (noticed anybody who is emotionally checked out around you?).