There are psychological and emotional consequences when societies interact more with devices than directly with people
Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. The opportunities for digital communication seem endless these days. But as the digital revolution evolves, so does digital disconnect.
The phrase “digital disconnect” was originally used by the Pew Research Center in 2002 to describe the gap between behind-the-times school systems that were dragging their feet on recognizing the educational value of the Internet. Now it is being used to describe a psychological disconnect that happens when a society begins to interact more with devices than face-to-face.
Communication completely changes when it takes a digital route. Text messages and emojis allow for blunt and truncated expressions of thoughts and emotions. The very anonymity of digital communication can lead to the expression of harsh opinions, and these instant cyberspace judgments are seen widely and are difficult to delete. There is also a decrease of intimate and private expressions of emotions about oneself and others.
Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D. and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D. both work in the field of clinical psychology, and are authors of the new book Psychological Nutrition. They say that, “If digital communication becomes the predominant way of interacting with others, we may risk losing the ability to ‘read’ subtle facial expressions in communication, to recognize psychological boundaries, and to understand through seeing and experiencing how our communications impact others. More profoundly, if digital communication becomes the main mode of relating, it may lead to rendering face-to-face interpersonal interactions alien and uncomfortable, and therefore avoided.”
Although the digital age appears to connect us, with “friends” that may number in the thousands, there may not be a single living person with whom there is an emotional connection.
Sreenivasan and Weinberger say that disconnection was observed even before the digital age as Americans experienced increasing prosperity, which coincided with a growing sense of detachment and questioning. In the 1950s, theologian Paul Tillich labeled this “non-being,” or psychological emptiness experienced as a sense of being cut off from others.
There are positive aspects to the digital revolution. Computer dating sites have led to long-term, intimate relationships. People with similar beliefs or hobbies have formed close bonds through Internet connections. Homebound persons can reach out and communicate with those with similar interests.
The concern is whether the next wave of technological advances will render in-person connectivity irrelevant, questioning whether all human needs can be met virtually. Will the digital world create a generation of emotionally avoidant, detached, and blunted people? Will humanity become self-focused individuals lacking empathy for others?
The point of the questioning, according to Sreenivasan and Weinberger, is that we continue to be mindful of what we lose when we unthinkingly embrace technology. Positive emotional and physical connections to people are what lead to empathy and promote kindness, concern and altruism. It feeds the human spirit.