How Can We Have Successful ‘Community’ in The Digital Age?

It’s no question that one of the most exciting benefits of the Digital Age is the ability to connect with other people from all over the world; people we would have likely never encountered if it weren’t for technology. It’s giving us the chance to find more like-minded individuals and groups with common interest than ever before, offering support and validation to us and whichever life path we choose to walk.

However, what are the drawbacks of the increase of Virtual relationships, and the decrease of physically present communities?

If we only ever surround ourselves with people who think like us, does that stunt our ability to communicate with others who think differently?

How do we learn compromise and respect – to value the difference in others – if we are allowed to exist only in bubbles, padded with our own opinions echoed back to us in a swirl of emojis and approval?

How can we have successful community in the digital age?

Video games offer a false sense of accomplishment, even if we haven’t physically moved in 12 hours. The accomplishment and benefit of our ‘in-game’ successes don’t translate to the real world at all, and if anything, this sedentary lifestyle is cause for concern. Our bodies were designed for movement. As such, our souls and minds were designed for human interaction. Social Media gives us a similar false sense of community. 10,000 followers on Instagram does not equal 10,000 friends. Likes on Facebook do not make up for physical touch, and I’d like to see that winky face emoji help you move into your new apartment.

Humans are a communal species.

We’re inherently drawn to others, and even as we sink into introversion as a new default mode, because we’re constantly in front of one screen or another, our human self still longs for true, physical and energetic connection. Our “solution”? Something is missing, so – more screen time, more selfies, more numbing that emptiness by being entertained with no pause. No stillness. No quiet. Does this then also cause a disconnect within ourselves? If we never just sit in silence. If while waiting for a friend at a cafe, we never just sit and observe our surroundings. Glued to a screen, we’re less likely to notice an elderly person who could use a hand. To observe the couple two tables over on their awkward first date. To even just sit with our own thoughts. And what of God’s “still, small voice”?

Does the instant gratification and satisfaction that Tech delivers lead to physical inaction?

If we can just as easily feel fulfilled by sitting on our couch and scrolling as we would by working hard to hone a skill or create something meaningful – what’s the incentive? If I can “support” someone by using a single finger to click “Love” on their post about their hard times – what would be the incentive to take a few hours out of my day, to meet them for coffee, listen to them vent and offer comfort?

Then enter the amazingness of Anonymity.

I’d like to see some of these comments made in the Digital Community, delivered to the person’s face, without the offender getting punched in the throat. We’re gettin’ ballsy, ya’ll. When we can hide behind a screen, in the safety of our mothers’ basements, it brings out a fascinating but much uglier side to humanity.

Bullies have always been a thing, they’re not new. But Tech has given them the ability and ‘safety’ to cause immeasurable harm, with little to no consequences. With most of the people we interact with appearing as the sum total of so many pixels, on our familiar, personal screens – it’s no wonder the ease with which we can view every confrontation as a Home Game with a virtual opponent – forgetting the humanity on the other side. Add in the bolstering of the like-minded groups we surround ourselves with offering even more validation and cheering-on of the views which birth these behaviors.

Floating in a murky pool of disconnect and desensitization toward the importance and beauty of humanity, we need to be mindful of the effects that the Digital Age is having on empathy, presence, energy exchange, connection, and accountability.

If we were more present and connected, would we notice and take action when we see signs of Mental Health decline in those close to us? Or would clicking “Like” still suffice? Because surely someone else will say something – someone else will step up and do something. Continue scrolling.

Is the substantial swell in anxiety and depression we’re experiencing in America directly related to us believing our human social needs are being met by social media and digital relationships – causing us to not pursue them further in a physical sense?

Is severe loneliness, compounded by bullying without consequence, piled higher still by not having the physical component of relationships and losing sight of the sacredness of humanity because well, we’re all just pixels – creating dis-ease in an individual to the breaking point of committing a mass shooting? What is the message there? What pushes a person to the point of having so little regard for others? Or crying out so loudly for attention that headlining the news as a terrorist seems a justifiable way to be noticed? Of course there are other motives, some we may never know or understand, but how can we possibly hope to prevent these events, “notice the signs” preceding such extremes, if we as a community notice little else than the screen directly in front of our faces?

I’m not suggesting we forsake all technology in favor of campfire sing-alongs and hand-holding or that we need to take personal responsibility for the actions of others.

Rather, I urge each of us toward personal governance.

Be intentional with the time spent connected to technology, and likewise ensuring time unplugged.

Be compassionate and mindful in your interactions and don’t forget to have some of them be in the real world.

There are far more benefits to the Digital Age than downsides, and numerous accounts of people coming together to enact powerful, heartwarming, hope-invoking change. Use this power for good, people! Because who do we become, if no one is ever looking into the “windows of our soul”?

windows of our soul quote
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