Years ago in a graduate school course, I was required to read Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam. The premise of this book being that those cultural norms in postwar America such as bowling leagues and church (community and civic organizations) have been left behind in modern America. As a result this absence in community involvement is having an impact on our health as well as our nation’s stability (as I write these words many in Baltimore feel saddened and are seized by this instability–praying for you Baltimore). This book was published in 2001 before the advancements of social media. The words and warnings of Putnam’s work has become more prevalent as we’ve become greatly enamored by our cyber communities.
On Sunday, I sat at my daughter’s softball practice. Besides the coaches and one other parent, I was the only other adult present. The other parent and I sat far apart. I chose to be near a tree to block the wind and he closer to home plate. We didn’t nod, didn’t say hello, didn’t really exist in any sort of sameness–two pods separate, and yet still there together. He had a phone conversation and I wrote parts of this post. Community??
I have wondered a lot about so much aloneness and what it means for ourselves and our kids–for our hearts emotionally and physically. We’ve all read the headlines–”Loneliness Kills” or “Get a Dog, or Better Yet a Friend!” But do we?
My children and I love to read (we are a family of shy introverts as the above mentioned softball practice could have indicated to you). Reading is a natural recharge for when we are overtired from to much extroversion. Lately, I have read (again) out loud The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read of a bygone era where community did not socialize behind computer monitors or flashy touch screen phones. We are falling in love with Almanzo as Laura did during this week of reading and sometimes sighing wishing we too could be at home or in town with the Ingalls family. In These Happy Golden Years there are so many moments of coming together in community–singing, sleigh rides, celebrations, community entertainment, worship, learning, and even the day-to-day archaic act of calling on your neighbor.
The unhappiest moments for Laura are when she is separated from her family or her community. In the monotony of the day to day, she looks forward to the renewing of her spirit through communal activities, which made life joyous and worth getting up for.
Today, we’ve lost something. I don’t know about you, but for me Facebook isn’t causing any spiritual renewal, and Pinterest almost daily makes me question my drapery choices, the negative attributes of my dog’s breed, and why my cooking doesn’t look like the picture. Yet, I still click when I hear their Siren call. But, why do I do it? It is a high–I’m seeking my dose of Facebook endorphins. If someone likes or comments on a post–”ZING” it feels good…if they share my stats…Ooh just hook me up and let it drip…I’m addicted! However, the high is not lasting and if you want to see what a slippery slope it is click here.
So as I contemplated all that social media is and isn’t for me I recognize this:
- While social media is a community of sorts a majority of posts are centrally about the poster (an egocentric action)
- I am often posting about myself (egocentric)
- In the past communities described by Putnam and Ingalls Wilder the activities in the community were often altruistic or mutualistic
- When I am online I rarely experience altruistic or mutualistic relationships
(Note–the Amish have very little instances of depression in their society and what kind of community do they immerse themselves into??? I’m not saying their culture is perfect–I’m just connecting some dots for myself…)
In some ways I do love social media. It gives me a chance to see my sister, cousins, and friends who live states and countries away from me, but in the next breath I spurn how we as a society have become combative in public shirking interaction (I’m guilty as I previously mentioned) because it is easier to text or FB in a cyber community rather than really let ourselves know and be known–there is smoke and mirrors sort of safety behind these screens. Maybe the illusion isn’t what we need–maybe we need the gritty, the hard, the heartbreaking, and mostly the joy that comes with being humans together–face to face, hand in hand, and definitely heart to heart happily and golden throughout our years.
Just some pondering for today.