Technology and Community

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The following article was written by Dori Abbott, one of our Woman Within Eastern USA members.  

We live in a “global village” thanks to modern technology. A few short years ago we had to rush to the bank to cash our paychecks while the bank was still open. Not only that, we had to talk to an actual human being and ask for help in doing that. If we wanted a book to read, we went to the library where we talked to a librarian, or we went to a local bookstore and purchased one. In my lifetime I have experienced movies when they were present only in theaters for a limited time, then able to be rented at video stores for a limited time (with steep fees for late returns), then sent to my mailbox and able to be kept until I wanted another one shipped, and now streamed any time day or night instantaneously as often as I like, and for as long as I desire! Unbelievable! I can see video footage taken on a cell phone from a war torn country like Syria and know what is going on first hand without ever leaving my home! Unbelievable! If I get bored at work I can watch eagles hatching in an aerie in Oregon!

tumblr_inline_nj5ikha03Z1t2d0vj But does that make us a village? The definition of a village is a place of community. And community denotes shared interests, common beliefs, standards, and traditions. It also denotes give and take, encouragement, support, and accountability. For centuries that is how we defined ourselves—by our communities. We were Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Southern, small town or urban; East coast, West coast, athletes, or Amish—whatever we were there were parameters defining what was good, better, and best. There were traditions, foods, celebrations, holidays, styles of clothing, and ways of doing things passed down from the elders to the younger members of the community. Much was taught; but more was absorbed.
Thanks to our dependence on technology, that sense of local community is rapidly fading, no matter how often or how loudly we say the words, “global village.” When I buy a book online at two in the morning, I am not sharing any interests or traditions with anyone. I interact with no one. When I take a picture of my paycheck with my smartphone and deposit it electronically, I am not talking to or interacting with another living being. I stream movies without having to exchange money or pleasantries with anyone. Even when I “connect” with my friends on social media, I am not really connecting with them. I am seeing what they want me to see about their lives, and I am sharing only those things that make me look good.
In consciousness work, we often decry that sense of community (“tribe”) as provincial, parochial, biased, racist, or unconscious. And indeed that can be true. But it is not the whole truth. Humans were made for community, and without it we can get lost and lonely. Loneliness has reached crisis status, and is being reported as a “modern plague” where young people have no human to look to for guidance and support during times of crises. The Mental Health Foundation reports that loneliness is at epidemic proportions in the generation of 18 to 34 year olds. They also state that loneliness is linked to increased stress, depression, anxiety, paranoia, addiction, and cognitive decline. All humans need empathetic listeners, warmth, and human touch. We won’t find that in a chat room. We find it in community where there is give and take as well as accountability to others.
“The world is changing, and we need to change with it,” you may say. But ask yourself this: “At what price does that change come?” With all the changes in how we relate; or don’t relate to others, is it possible that we are changing our very identity as humans? Some experts believe so. A recent article in The Daily Mail explores the idea that because of technology, we as humans are having an “identity crisis” that goes right to the heart of humanity, affecting how we view ourselves, interact with others, decide what makes us happy, and ultimately determines our ability to reach our full potential as human beings. The author is a researcher at Oxford University who has seen the “rewiring” of the human brain not figuratively, but literally at a microcellular level with the constant use of technology. He states that today’s technology is creating a marked shift in the way we think, the way we act, and the way we feel.
One area we are changing is in the “give and take” that is thick and vibrant in a true community, but lacking in the global community. In community when we want something from another, we ask politely, not sure if it will be given to us. We offer up a barter, a bargain, or just go belly up and admit our ignorance—but there is no demanding past the age of toddlerhood. In the technological community we demand, we seek, we get; but we don’t give back. We want to know—What is the fastest route home? Why do I have pain in my abdomen? How do I bake a loaf of bread or thread a needle? We demand and we get instantaneously. That is not a recipe for a fully developed human being. In any thriving community like that of Woman Within, there is give and take, a time to talk and a time to listen, a time to encourage and a time to be encouraged.
There is also accountability. This is another area in which humans are changing because of constant technology use. There is an old Latin phrase, Esse Quam Videri, which means “To be rather than to seem to be.” This was first written by Cicero in his essay On Friendship. His point was that many want to be seen as having virtue; but few want to actually be virtuous. Roman virtues were character qualities such as dignity, hospitality, self-control, humor, tenacity, frugality, etc. Things we could all agree are good qualities for humans to possess. In the Woman Within community we build each other up and hold each other accountable. If a woman says she desires to be more honest, we may call her on dishonest words or actions. If she says that she desires more dignity, we elders can teach her self-containment when necessary. This is the beauty and necessity of community—the give and take, the accountability, the support and encouragement—indeed all the ingredients that are necessary for humans to become (or remain) human.
Am I saying that all technology is bad? Or that we should shut it all down? Of course not. But look around you as you go about your daily life today. Did you physically touch another human, or did another human touch you? Did you look in the eyes of someone waiting on you? Or did you barely glance at them while on your cell phone? Did they look in your eyes? Did you take the time to be present while waiting in line; noticing the pain and joy of other humans standing right next to you? Or were those cat videos on Facebook just too darn cute to put down? We are only a global community if we are engaged, encouraging, and accountable to others in that community, so let’s put down our phones, unplug for a while, touch and be touched, look into someone’s eyes today, really see them, and just be human!