Can We 'Belong' through the Internet?

Filed in Gather Health Essential by on December 2, 2007 0 Comments

Hello everyone. I am back after some time of being away from Gather as my father just passed away. It has been a heart-wrenching and yet unifying time.

During my father's dying process I sent him and my mother 150 letters by e-mail. I live far away from them and could not be there throughout. The fact that I could send them these mails on most days was extremely important to me. There was a kind of healing that took place in the writing of them and in the idea that they would receive my thoughts almost as soon as I had put them down. I reconnected quickly with many old friends who had lost their parents and was able to create an invaluable support network for the process ahead in a very short period of time. And all because of technology.

The last time that I saw my father alive was via Skype and a web cam. His grandchildren were able to play him a little concert on their instruments, and he was able to hear and see it all. I could at once see how ill he was yet at the same time was overjoyed that I would still get the chance to see my father before he left this earth. Again, all because of technology.

During these months, computers and the Internet have been my saving grace. They created the possibility of being a part of the last days of my old family at the same time as I could continue to attend to my new one. At the same time I continue to ask myself as to whether technology can actually fulfill our human need to belong and be in physical contact with other humans.  

A new book out ("Social Intelligence", Daniel Goleman) characterizes technology as an insidious destroyer of human relations and togetherness. When I see my son or daughter staring into screens next to one another, not speaking to eachother and not acknowledging one another's presence, I feel concerned and have some sympathy for Goleman's argument. I have noticed that young boys in particular are great victims of our computer revolution. They seem more easily addicted to the screen. Perhaps this has something to do with the fundamental difference in social function that evolution had in mind for males and females (females are the social carers and carers of the family, while males are supposed to be out there on their own fending for the family).

Then I began to wonder about how much participation in an on-line community can give us as far as belonging goes. Of course, each of us has our individual reasons for participating. In my case, it is to get feedback on ideas. I am a writer. There is also the instinctive desire simply to belong to groups that I can converse with and share similar interests. I live on an island which is close to a major city, yet it still cuts me off a bit from intense social interaction. The question is, does my on-line belonging subtract negatively from the overall extent to which I belong in the community/society where I live?

I'd be so interested to hear from all of you who have some thoughts on this as to how you see this tradeoff. Is it a tradeoff? What do you feel that you get from being a part of an on-line community. Is it something that gives you peace and grounding in your life or is that overstated? How did you make the decision to join an on-line community? Why did you?

In the mean time, have a wonderful first of advent. Here in Sweden I am lighting the first candle on an advent wreath which I made outside in the forest. I will think of my dad when I light the candle.

About the Author ()

Author, columnist, speaker, concept creator, health expert, mother, wife, island dweller.

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