April 06, 2014Sometimes bad things happen when people are not "connected."
During the Civil War shortly before the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863, Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stewart reported to Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee that army commanded by Union Gen. Joseph Hooker was "in the air" - that is not connected to or anchored to any physical barrier such as high ground or cover-facilitating terrain and was therefor vulnerable.
Despite the fact that Lee was greatly outnumbered (60,000 against 133,000) he divided his army (twice) and sent Jackson with 28,000 men to attack Hooker on his exposed flank.
The risky gambit resulted in one of Lee's greatest victories and the lessons of the battle are still taught at West Point.
Not being connected can be costly, and Hooker found out the hard way. While he had every advantage, his position was vulnerable because his army was not connected or grounded; it had no foundation.
Today technology is disconnecting us from meaningful relationships at an alarming rate - particularly our teenagers. And because we are so disconnected many of those things that have always grounded us in the past are being displaced – our life experiences, truly personal relationships, the eye- to-eye moments of magic, understanding, awe, inspiration, accountability, success, defeat, understanding, and safety.
It seems we are missing the teacher to student, father to son or mother to daughter, peer to peer or coach to athlete experiences.
Are these things still available? Of course they are, but to me today feels more and more like I am sitting in a speeding bullet train with great masterpieces of art lining both sides of the track. Magnificent music by Wagner, Mozart, and Beethoven is being performed but everything is just a blur. I can only glimpse patches of color or hear isolated notes.
Computers and the Internet today give us certain advantages and enable us to accomplish things that were not imaginable before. Individually and collectively we are better equipped to excel, accomplish, learn, build, create, and experience.
But there is a cost to all those advantages. That cost is our loss of connectedness to life and each other in ways that are meaningful, nourishing, and sustaining.
It also feels like we are losing our ability to actually control our own destiny, as illogical as that may sound. I also think it's one of the reasons we are seeing such an alarming increase in young people taking their own lives.
The Internet connects in a way that at its core is remote and impersonal. And it increasingly has become as central to our lives as electricity. We connect via Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, Instagram, Vine, and all the other online stuff. But the connection is often shallow and unfulfilling. I liken it to taking nourishment via a feeding tube as opposed to sitting down at the dinner table and experiencing the richness of a well prepared meal. We are missing shared time in engaged conversation and fellowship.
Both sustain life yet the former provides only the ink and paper for the painting while the latter the inspiration and transformation that gives birth to meaning, purpose, and empathy.
At Chancellorsville soldiers died from saber wounds inflicted hand to hand and face to face. Today, we push buttons and navigate joysticks (how ironic) that fire rockets from drones thousands of miles away.
Objects seen on LED screens rain death that the other side never sees until the act is done. It is hard for me to imagine anything more terrifying or threatening than this disconnect between humans and their actions. Terrible things happen.
And we navigate forward day to day assuming that at some point we will not be on the receiving end of this type of anonymous and debilitating act by drones or proxies in other forms.
Were Shakespeare alive today the tales he would write.
So what are we gaining and what is the cost? Are we asking the right questions? Is this irreversible?
Why do we allow ourselves to become so immersed in Internet-driven behavior that so clearly is exacting such a debilitating cost? The answer I keep telling myself respond is "because we can."
But I think what the answer should be is, "Because we have made well-considered decisions and it is the "right thing to do."
The "right thing to do" however would be to focus on practicing behavior that is healthy and keeps our lives in balance. That means recognizing the danger in allowing the Internet and technology to dominate how we communicate and relate to each other and how we spend our time.
I think we can choose to live lives that in a sense are governed by lowest common denominators or we can opt to live lives driven by our determined, deliberate, conscious efforts to strive for highest common denominators.
Those are lives that are fueled by face-to-face personal relationships and interaction which are the incubators of empathy, honor, faith and loyalty.
Even though personal interaction may not be the most efficient or fastest route. It may not be the most profitable or expedient route.
But upon these qualities we can build sustainable foundations that facilitate life-nourishing connections to one another and give our lives meaning and purpose.
And lastly, it's only through meaningful connections with one another that we can share the most important of them all - love.
Tips to stay really connected in the modern age
"What is hell? I maintain it is the suffering of being unable to give love."
- When you miss somebody, call them.
- Listen more – especially to young people. They have as much to say and contribute as any adult and wants to desperately.
- Write letters - ink on paper - instead of emails sometimes.
- Vote for more arts funding, not less. (Art and faith are our only lines in the sand).
- When you are lonely, invite someone over.
- If you want to be understood, explain yourself and your feelings - in person.
- Slow down. Set aside time for spontaneity. Garden.
- If something is bothering you, speak up - talk to someone, face to face.
- If you like someone, tell them - in person.
- If you love someone, tell them.
- If you want to reach out to someone, do it in person.
- Make your decisions by what is right, not by what is expedient or easy.
- Fydor Dostoyevsky