Die Eensaamheid Epidemie

Ek het onlangs op hierdie onderhoud afgekom wat Matt D’Avella met Johann Hari gevoer het oor sy boek “Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope“. In hierdie onderhoud raak hulle aan vele punte wat so in ons hedendaagse samelewing ingegrein is dat dit soms vreemd is om te dink daar is ou oplossing vir hierdie nuwe probleme van ons tyd.

Wat helder uitstaan, en ook die onderliggende toon is, is dat mense mekaar nodig het. Die mensdom het die slimste en sterkste spesie geraak omdat die mens geleer het om saam te staan deur moeilike tye. Die probleem is egter dat in die afgelope paar jaar het die mens hom en haarself al meer probeer individualiseer en onttrek van die samelewing in die bree. Al meer dinge kan afgelewer word en sonder veel moeite.

Depressie is ‘n siekte wat al meer mense elke jaar byt en dit lyk asof die oplossing gedeeltelik is om by mense uit te kom en die te isoleer nie. Johann noem dat in die Weste as iemand hartseer is en gelukkig wil wees doen hulle iets vir hulself, en in die Ooste as iemand hartseer is en gelukkig wil voel doen hulle iets vir iemand anders. Die Ooste se depressie vlakke is heelwat laer as die in die Weste.

Luister gerus na die onderhoud en dink self verder oor wat dit in jou los maak…

Dit het my laat besef dat alleenheid of die beter woord, eensaamheid ‘n ding is! Volgens Thrive Union sê 40% van mense vandag dat hulle eensaam is, teenoor slegs 20% in die 1980’s. Engeland het ‘n Departement van Eensaamheid in hulle parlement gestig. Eensaamheid is ‘n indikator van die mens wat die behoefte na gemeenskap of sosialisering uitdruk. Thrive Union lig in hulle video van dieselfde redes uit wat die toename in eensaamheid aanhelp; tegnologie en individualisme. Deur in goeie verhoudings te belê kan die gevolge van eensaamheid merkwaardig verminder en selfs verwyder. Wat ook interessant is, is dat verhoudings wat eensaamheid teenwerk nie eenrigting verhoudings is waar daar net gekry word nie, maar verhoudings is wat wederkerig is, ja, waar daar gekry word, maar ook waar daar ruimte is om te gee.

Die Engelse posdiens het ‘n kreatiewe manier gekry om eensaamheid aan te spreek. Ek dink graag saam met julle… Hoe gaan ons eensaamheid in ons gemeenskappe aanspreek? Wat kan jy in jou onmiddelike omgewing doen om eensaamheid aan te spreek?

 

Digital Minimalism and God (Or, is Social Media Undermining Religion?

Those who know Martin Luther King Jr.’s story well, know that January 27, 1956, was a pivotal date for the young minister.

Only one month earlier, still a newcomer in town, King, to his surprise, was elected to run the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) formed in response to Rosa Parks’s arrest.

As King’s Pulitzer-prize winning biographer David Garrow recalls, King “mistakenly presumed that the boycott [organized by the MIA] would be relatively brief,” but he was wrong. A series of tense negotiating sessions made it clear that the city was reluctant to give up any ground.

As the bus boycott dragged on, and more attention was turned toward its leader, the situation became tense. According to Garrow:

“The increased news coverage had brought with it a rising tide of anonymous, threatening phone calls to his home and office, and King had begun to wonder whether his involvement was likely to end up costing him, his wife, Coretta, and their two-month-old daughter, Yolanda, much more than he had initially imagined.”

On January 26th, King was arrested and jailed for supposedly driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. The next day, after his release, he received another round of anonymous threatening phone calls. He tried to sleep, but couldn’t, so he returned to his kitchen table to make a cup of coffee and confront his mounting anxiety and fear.

As King recalled in a sermon given a decade later at the Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church:

“And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I never will forget it…I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night. I said, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right…But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage.”

Then, clarity:

“And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’”

Garrow describes this scene as one of the most important moments of King’s life.

* * * *

I first encountered this story in a book by Mike Erwin and Raymond Kethledge about solitude, and then expanded on it in Chapter 4 of Digital Minimalism, where I discuss what’s lost when we deploy devices to avoid every moment of time alone with our own thoughts.

For many in our modern context, this observation that reflection is critical might be novel, especially given the steady refrain of “connectivity = good” that we’ve been fed for the last decade. But to the spiritual, like King, it’s deeply familiar.

Common to many different religions is an emphasis on contemplative practices — turning one’s focus inward in search of transcendent insight (what Karen Armstrong calls “intimations of the divine.”)

Sometimes these practices are structured, as in the Islamic Salat, Buddhist mindfulness meditation, or, as is familiar around my academic home, Jesuit imaginative prayer. And sometimes they’re unstructured, like King’s experience at the kitchen table. Regardless of form, contemplative reflection is often intertwined with spiritual life.

I’m bringing this all up because it provides background for a surprising claim that’s been growing online in recent years, and which seems self-evidently worthy of unpacking: social media might be accidentally undermining religion.

* * * *

I stumbled across this growing tension between social media and religion in an admittedly ignoble manner: checking media hits for Digital Minimalism. I was surprised to discovered the amount of attention the book has started receiving in religious circles.

But as I looked closer at the coverage, the surprise dissipated. Though there are many ways in which tools like Twitter or Instagram might work against (or in some cases with) the traditional objectives of religion, the issue that kept arising is the way in which the ubiquitous distraction they provide corrodes the contemplative life.

Courage, reassurance, revelation: these require a quiet mind capable of apophatic insight. One of the unintentional consequences of innovating an algorithmically-optimized, always-present source of attention-snagging noise is that this quiet disappears.

The religious are increasingly concerned with this consequence as they notice more of their fellow adherents stumbling around in a state of unmoored anxiety, but it’s an effect that’s clearly important beyond just formal faith, as it gets at something fundamental about human flourishing in a hard world: if you’re constantly escaping, you’ll eventually end up lost.

At some point in Digital Minimalism, I remark that “humans are not wired to be constantly wired.” But perhaps a more vivid formulation of the stakes is to wonder (with a dash of anachronistic hyperbole) what would have happened to Martin Luther King Jr. at that kitchen table sixty years ago if, instead of turning inward to find wisdom, he had been distracted by his mentions?

The original blogpost of Cal Newport can be found here.

Join Analog Social Media

This article is by Cal Newport a computer science professor who writes about the intersection of technology and society.

 

A phenomenon I noticed when researching Digital Minimalism is that many people are confused by the creeping unease they feel about their digital lives. This confusion is caused in part by problems of scope.

When you take an activity like social media, for example, and zoom in close, you isolate behaviors like commenting on a friend’s picture, or encountering an interesting link, that seem mildly positive. What harm could their possibly be in clicking a heart icon?

When you zoom out, however, the cumulative effect of all this swiping and tapping seems to add up to something distinctly negative. Few are happy, for example, after allowing yet another movie night to devolve into side-by-side iPad idling.

The dynamic at play here is that digital activities that are mildly positive in isolation, combine to crowd out other real world activities that are potentially much more satisfying. This is what allows you to love Twitter in the moment when you discover a hilarious tweet, but at the end of the day fear that the app is degrading your soul.

Understanding this dynamic is critical because it tells you that you cannot improve your life by focusing exclusively on digital tools. Triaging your apps, or cutting back phone time, will not by itself make you happier. You must also aggressively fill in the space this pruning creates with the type of massively satisfying, real world activities that these tools have been increasingly pushing out of your life.

It is with this in mind, and in the spirit of the New Year, that I suggest you make a simple resolution: join analog social media.

As I’ve discussed beforeanalog social media describes organizations, activities and traditions that require you to interact with interesting people and encounter interesting things in the real world.

Here are some examples:

  • Join a local political group that meets regularly to organize on issues relevant to your local community, or serve as a volunteer on the election campaign of a local politician you know and like.
  • Join a social fitness group, like a running club, or local CrossFit box.
  • Become a museum or theater member and attend openings.
  • Go to at least one author talk per month at a local bookstore.
  • Create a book club, or poker group, or gaming club.
  • Join a committee at your church/temple/mosque.
  • Establish a weekly brunch or happy hour with your close friends.

These types of activities tend to provide significantly more value in your life than their digital counterparts. Indeed, tools like online social media are probably best understood as weak online simulacrums of the analog encounters that we know deep down we need to thrive as humans.

Equally important, as I learned during last year’s big digital declutter experiment (summarized here; detailed here), the more analog social media you introduce into your life, the more bulwarks you establish against the creeping demands of the digital.

With nothing else in place to fill your time, your phone will become increasingly irresistible, regardless of your intentions to spend more time disconnected. When you instead introduce meaningful analog activity into your regular routine, the appeal of the screen suddenly diminishes.

To summarize: if you’re vaguely unhappy with your digital life, respond by introducing much more positive real world activity. If you embrace analog social media, you’ll soon be wondering how you ever dedicated so much time to its inferior digital equivalent.