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Connecting is harder in connected world

After food, shelter and safety, what humans need most is connection with other humans and the natural world.

But in this age of ultra “connectivity,” we seem to be connecting less and less. Ears are plugged, eyes riveted to small, electronic screens, earth paved over. Speech is dumbed down and corrupted, noise drowns out thought, speech, wind and bird song. Chat now refers to online “chat rooms.”

Young parents fixate on their phones in the playground while their young children clamor for attention and a playmate. Seen in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood: mother pushing toddler in fancy stroller, both on their devices. What will they have to say to each other later on?

The more modes of connection there are, the more inaccessible people seem to become. “Oh, I hardly ever read my email.” Chatting with strangers, especially young ones, makes them uncomfortable; it seems friendliness is seen as threatening. “Don’t talk to strangers!” How else to make strangers friends? Or at least less strange?

Attached garages allow neighbors to avoid each other — sometimes convenient, but not conducive to neighborliness. So-called community policing doesn’t get police out of their fortified vehicles. Drive-up windows: another way to stay in your car and not connect (and increase air pollution).

Shopping online: another way not to connect — with shopkeepers, other shoppers, your community. Many people say they want a “vibrant downtown” but then shop on Amazon or at big-box chain stores. Then they wail when the local, independent (fill in the gap) closes. Corporate “customer service” is a nightmare of disconnection.

People text instead of phone — one more way to keep “the other” at bay. (Texting can be efficient; it can also waste time.)

Increasingly, I am referred to Facebook to find out about events and what’s going on in people’s lives. What I find is a confusing jumble of trivia.

National and international politics is increasingly conducted via Twitter, with dire consequences.

“Social media” rules, but it’s not very social. Cafes, where people used to meet and talk, are now eerily silent, with single people, ears usually plugged, at single tables communing only with their laptops. I guess they meet others online — perhaps at the next table?

Huge amounts of attention are given to romantic/sexual connection (one could say too much), but there are so many other ways to connect. Sam Keen writes, “The terrible mistake of modern theories of love is to focus on two solitary individuals who join together to form an island in an alien sea of anonymous others and unknown neighbors.”

The huge turnouts for Hearth storytelling events show just how starved people are for heart-to-heart, in-person storytelling. But can’t we tell our stories and communicate with the people we meet every day? Friends? Acquaintances? Strangers? Fellow human beings on the planet?

“Social isolation” has become a big medical problem, especially among the elderly. It also seems to be a characteristic of young men who go on murderous shooting rampages. Turns out that we need to connect in order to stay healthy!

Despite self-check-out at the public library, I often take my books to staff at the desk — an opportunity for a friendly exchange. Same goes for the credit union and its ATM. It’s also fun to eavesdrop on conversations, and sometimes join them.

Humans are connecting more and more with their dogs, though. This is great for the dogs, I guess, but I’d love to see that level of attention, care and love showered on humans. Of course, humans can be difficult, and dogs, I’m told, are a guaranteed source of unconditional love and devotion. Conversation, however, is limited.

Doctors, ministers and rabbis have very limited time to talk with us. They suggest you take your problems to a therapist, who charge up to $150/hour for 50 minutes. Insurance companies will only pay for “brief” therapy. Prescriptions take the place of care.

Alternate strategies: connect with friends, acquaintances, strangers in person; create and/or join regularly meeting groups around topics of mutual interest; volunteer to help others; unplug your ears and listen to the world; go for a walk; limit screen time; join a neighborhood group; run for office; don’t be afraid of strangers.

— Julia Sommer lives in Ashland.