Paul L. Caron

Sunday, May 22, 2022

NY Times Op-Ed: We’re In A Loneliness Crisis — Another Reason To Get Off Our Phones

New York Times Op-Ed:  We’re in a Loneliness Crisis: Another Reason to Get Off Our Phones, by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):

Warren 3It rained one morning this week. I moved back to Texas last year, in part for the rainstorms. Here, it rains decisively, gloriously, like it really means it. It explodes, pounds, roars, thunders and then, suddenly, moves on. I stepped on my back porch, not wanting to miss the show.

I sat, silent, smelling that indescribable rain scent and stretching out my hands, palms open in supplication, the same position I use in church to receive communion. The physicality of the experience, the sensual joy of sounds, smells, touch and sight, was profoundly humanizing. In a very real way, I am made for that. I am made to notice the rain. I’m made to love it.

We are creatures made to encounter beauty and goodness in the material world.

But digitization is changing our relationship with materiality — both the world of nature and of human relationships. We are trained through technology (and technology corporations) to spend more time on screens and less time noticing and interacting with this touchable, smellable, feelable world. Social media in particular trains us to notice that which is large, loud, urgent, trending and distant, and to therefore miss the small, quiet importance of our proximate and limited, embodied lives.

I have been rereading Michael Pollan’s 2008 book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.” In it, he writes that how and what we eat was historically embedded in and determined by community, religious practice, nature and culture. Then came an industrial revolution of the American food industry that found its heyday in the second half of the 20th century. Technology promised to improve our health and our food. Not only did this change how food is grown, but we also began re-engineering foods to supposedly keep out the bad stuff (like saturated fats) and boost the good (like vitamins). ...

I can’t help drawing an analogy to our current technological revolution: the rise of digitization and social media. This time, industry is re-engineering our social and communal lives. We were told that social media would create deeper connections, that it would help spread democracy, that it would end loneliness.

What we are beginning to see, however, is that as the digital world captures more of our imagination and time, the material world recedes and becomes less real to us. This has disastrous consequences. ...

Just as people have worked to revive slow, unprocessed and traditional food, we need to fight for the tangible world, for enduring ways of interacting with others, for holism. We need to reconnect with material things: nature, soil, our bodies and other people in real life. This doesn’t necessarily have to be big and dramatic. We don’t have to hurl our computers into the sea en masse.

But we do have to intentionally resist the siren song of digitization, which by and large promises far more than it can deliver. We have to be cautious and wise about introducing devices into our lives that fundamentally change how humans have interacted since time immemorial. We have to plunge ourselves primarily into the natural world and embodied human relationships, with all the complexity, challenges, inconvenience and pain that entails.

Go watch the rain for 10 minutes. Go on a walk with a friend. Get off social media and meet one neighbor. Keep your kids offline. Put your hands in the dirt. Play an instrument instead of a video game. Turn off your smartphone and have dinner with people around a table. Search for beauty and goodness in the material world, and there, find joy. The way back to ourselves, as individuals and a society, runs through old, earthy things.

Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren:

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