‘When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.’ John Muir
It’s one of the ironies of modern life that the more connected we become through technology, the more people report feeling disconnected. Researcher Brandon T. McDaniel coined the term ‘technoference’ to describe the way technology can interfere with close partner relationships. In one of his studies, couples whose time together was frequently interrupted through technology reported lower relationship satisfaction, more depressive symptoms, and less life satisfaction. Of course it could also be that unhappy couples use more technology to distract themselves from their problems. And on the upside, technology has also helped marginalised people feel connected to others who share their experience, through online support groups and blogs.
Nonetheless, the fast pace of modern life leads to many people reporting feeling increasingly disconnected – from themselves, from their community, and from the natural environment. It can be tempting to idealise cultures which still seem more connected – for example Indigenous cultures, or those who live more simple, communal lives. Yet there are many ways we can increase our own sense of connectedness, without having to jump ship and abandon our culture, and in the coming weeks we will explore some of these in the weekly reflections.
A good starting point is increasing our awareness of the impact our chosen lifestyle has on our mental and physical wellbeing. A lot of our difficulties stem from insidious stress – choices we make which look perfectly benign, but which over time can add up to an overcrowded and chaotic headspace. It could be checking our emails for the tenth time in an hour, going for a walk in nature with headphones blaring music, collapsing on the couch and watching five hours of TV, or getting caught up in a war of words on Facebook with a bigoted stranger. All of these may have their time and place, but can add up to precious little mental downtime. And rushing from one stimulation and distraction to the next is a pretty good recipe for feeling disconnected from ourselves.
Scientific experiments like to set up control conditions, and we can do the same with our lives. How does it feel to turn technology off for a day? To walk to the corner shop instead of driving? To read a book instead of watching TV? We are the ones who know ourselves best, and we can make good choices based on this knowledge. To do this well, we need to develop our non-judgmental awareness, which is one of the qualities we develop with regular mindfulness meditation.
Weekly practice idea:
Choose something you do regularly, which you suspect may contribute to feeling disconnected at times. Notice how it feels to take a break from this activity. What can you learn about this for the future?