While watching a recent episode of Face the Nation I listened as Senator Ben Sasse spoke of how the digital revolution has impacted our ability to engage with each other. In short, Senator Sasse asserts that one of our country’s biggest problems is loneliness and much of this has to do with an over reliance on technology. Simply put, we do not spend enough time building friendships face to face.
In my opinion, the situation described above is partially responsible for a myriad of social and mental health concerns. The minimization, and erosion, of social discourse has led to an increased sense of tribalism. In addition, especially for young people, a significant portion of their communicating with others is through technology. Because of this the acquisition of rudimentary communication and coping skills are no longer to be taken for granted.
Somehow, we need to begin socializing in person again. Too many of us revel at the number of friends we have on the computer, but can’t name five people in our neighborhoods. Getting ‘friended’ is far different from having real friends. You cannot hug a ‘like’.
Obviously technology is here to stay. In fact, it has proven to offer many significant gifts. With this said, we have lost a little balance in terms of how technology fits into our lives. Heck, even schools put more emphasis on their technology budgets than they do on social-emotional learning. Moving forward, I am concerned that the overemphasis on technology, in school, has come at the expense of interpersonal learning. Young learners today often speak of stress related issues. To some extent, we are creating conveyer belts that lead to stress and reduced social skills. Again, technology is wonderful, but some balance needs to be considered. Luckily school systems are starting to look at this. On the local level, the East Greenwich Public Schools have begun placing significant emphasis on social-emotional competencies.
Many educators, therapists, and now politicians, are beginning to investigate how technology has eroded social skills. Terms like ‘Social-Emotional Learning’ and ‘Tribalism’ have entered into our lexicon(s). While theories abound, and programs designed to ameliorate this crisis will soon ensue, answers might prove to be quite simple. Lending a hand, family dinners, a little less technology in schools, recognizing the importance of Social-Emotional Learning and a few more community gatherings could be powerful elixirs. They are also incredibly inexpensive.
Finally, it would be nice if our leaders spent more time redefining winning. Today’s acerbic political climate has led to significant discord. Politicians are not solely to blame for our present unfriendly climate. They do, however, exacerbate the situation by fanning flames and using disharmony for political advantage. So much more effort is placed on defeating opponents than creating allies and friends. When leaders alienate, use harsh language, and create divides, problems become magnified. Hopefully, Senator Sasse can find ways to build bridges that can address this issue. Until then, he is on to something. In the end, however, it is us who have to make the big changes. We can do this by beginning to talk with each other just a bit more. See you soon.
Bob Houghtaling recently returned from a weekend trip to North Carolina to see his daughter and family. Much time was spent playing with his grandchildren.