Connectedness: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Social media has allowed for people to connect with each other in unprecedented ways by means of cellular phones or Internet technologies such as e-mail, texting, social networking sites, or instant messaging. The use of online chat rooms and virtual bulletin boards and forums provide a direct avenue to share one’s feelings with other like-minded individuals, which can be easier than talking about such thoughts and feelings in person.

In 2016 Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth wrote an internal memo titled ‘The Ugly’ in which he asserted ‘connecting people is what we do’ but it can have unforeseen consequences. He says,

We talk about the good and the bad of our work often. I want to talk about the ugly.

We connect people.

That can be good if they make it positive. Maybe someone finds love. Maybe it even saves the life of someone on the brink of suicide.

So we connect more people

That can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still, we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is ‘de facto’ good.

Bosworth reminds us ‘connectedness can be both good and bad.’ The internet, like all platforms, can be used for positive and negative interaction.

Vulnerable young people, in particular, are prone to negative influences. School counsellors report growing numbers of students sharing negative issues related to texts, Twitter, or Facebook. The impact these experiences have on their lives can be disruptive, harmful and long-lasting.

Digital Connectedness is damaging when we expose ourselves to unfavourable social comparisons.

We fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against other people who aren’t us. According to social comparison theory, we determine our personal self-worth based on how we compare to others around us.

What we fail to realise is social media distorts reality. People are able to focus on key aspects of their lives, highlighting the positive and covering up anything and everything they want to hide.

The New York Times featured a debate on the topic “Is Digital Connectedness Good or Bad.” Emerson Csorba, an educational policy adviser, argued that there is a downside to Digital Connectedness.

He says,

“The relationships we form are superficial at best, and the social comparison that these connections foster can be psychologically damaging.”

Digital Connectedness is harmful when it becomes a vehicle for bullying and harassment.

Cyberbullying is a serious and frequent problem. It refers to sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else by means of cellular phones or Internet technologies such as e-mail, texting, social networking sites, or instant messaging. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.

In a study undertaken by Luxton, June and Fairall titled ‘Social Media and Suicide’ they found:

“Although cyberbullying cannot be identified as a sole predictor of suicide in adolescents and young adults, it can increase the risk of suicide by amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with pre-existing emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors.”

Digital Connectedness is tragic when it becomes the means of enacting suicide pacts.

A suicide pact is an agreement between two or more people to die by suicide at a particular time and often by the same lethal means. A primary characteristic of cybersuicide pacts is that they are usually formed among complete strangers.

Connectedness represents the fundamental human desire for interpersonal relationships with others.

Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman says,

“We are wired to be social. We are driven by deep motivations to stay connected with friends and family. “

Parker J Palmer expands this understanding of connectedness to include the natural world, He says,

“We humans are a profoundly interconnected species—entwined with one another and with all forms of life.”

Connectedness is more than sympathetic social interactions. It is more than conversing.

Connectedness occurs in many different settings. It occurs between:

• authors and those who read their work,
• artists and those who appreciate their technique, and
• surfers who wait patiently for the next wave.

Connectedness can enhance the quality of our lives by:

• affirming our identity,
• announcing our unique purpose, and
• encouraging a deeper sense of belonging.

Connectedness affirms our identity.

As a young married man, I enjoyed supportive relationships and showed confidence in my abilities but had yet to make peace with my personality type.

Throughout my ‘growing up’ years I was often described as quiet and socially reserved. I was a person content with my own company; an introvert lost in my own thoughts. But I secretly admired people who could converse confidently and were happy in themselves.

And then I read a book by Thomas Merton, ‘The Sign of Jonas.’ It is the journal of a young Trappist monk, describing his day by day experiences and meditations. Merton was called to a life of contemplation and celebration.

As I turned the pages I experienced a deep healing. Here was a man who saw the world as I saw it, finding inspiration in nature and delight in the little things.

Merton writes,

“But my chief joy is to escape to the attic of the garden house and the little broken window that looks out over the valley. There in the silence, I love the green grass. The tortured gestures of the apple trees have become part of my prayer. I look at the shining water under the willows and listen to the sweet songs of all the living things that are in the woods and fields. So much do I love this solitude that when I walk out along the road to the old barns that stand alone, far from the new buildings, delight begins to overwhelm me from head to foot and peace smiles even in the marrow of my bones.”

Connectedness announces our unique purpose.

Jim Stegner is a well-known expressionist painter and a passionate fly fisherman. He is the central character in Peter Heller’s novel The Painter.

The catalyst for his painting career occurred two weeks after the funeral of his father who died in a logging accident. Stegner wandered into the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and saw a painting on loan from Boston called The Fog Warning by Winslow Homer.

Winslow Homer – ‘The Fog Warning’

He says,

“It shocked me. This was a shock of life. The fisherman in his black slicker rowed through a rough grey sea, the stern of his little boat weighted down with a couple of huge fish. The man is in mid-stroke, climbing the back of a wave, and he cranes his head to get a better look at his distant ship and the coming wall of fog bearing down on it out of an ominous evening. He is completely alone and a little alarmed, and capable. If they – the ship, his rowboat – are overcome by fog before he can close the gap he may be lost at sea forever.”

The painting captured how he was feeling. The fog meant oblivion but it also meant respite. He was seventeen and already exhausted.

He says,

“I leaned into the painting and placed a bruised cheek almost to the canvas and eyed along the brushstrokes, trying to fathom how he had down that, made the sea so cold and wet and dangerous with only swipes of pigment… I wanted to do that.”

Connectedness encourages a deeper sense of belonging.

Tim Winton is an Australian author of both adult and children’s novels that evoke both the experience of life in and the landscape of his native country.

While growing up in the 70s, Winton developed a passion for recreational surfing. Some of his most memorable moments have been spent out on WA’s reefs and rock shelfs… remote breaks which are renowned, in surfing circles, for their numinous beauty and potential for grievous bodily harm.

Winton says,

“Surfing is sensual. It’s a real-time engagement with the forces of nature, which happen to be echoes of the past. Briefly, we defy gravity and ride the energy of storms from elsewhere. We are intensely alone as we do it and yet completely swallowed by something larger that enforces a sense of perspective and connectedness to the natural world.”

Positive connectivity has the potential to save lives.

Let’s get connected.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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