virgin islands scene

No man is hurt but by himself.
-- Diogenes


The MONTHLY Motivator - November 2018


Quality connections

Functionally, the world is more connected than ever before. At the same time, divisiveness, mistrust, and loneliness seem to be increasing at alarming rates, infecting all areas of life. The problem is not that people lack the means to connect. There’s a smartphone in almost everyone’s pocket. High-speed communication networks blanket the planet, available even while sailing across the ocean and flying through the sky. Speaking of which, travel by air is more accessible and affordable than at any time in history, providing endless opportunities to connect in person with people on distant continents. No, the problem is not with the availability or affordability of connections. The problem is in the quality of those connections.

When something is very costly, you value it more, are more careful and thoughtful with its use. When something is free or inexpensive, there’s a very real tendency to take it for granted, to trivialize it, to use it carelessly and thoughtlessly. Connection in all sorts of different forms has become cheap and easy. Unfortunately, that has hollowed out much of its value and meaning. That’s a big problem because quality, meaningful connection with other people is essential to living a rich and fulfilling life.

In this hyper-connected world, connections have become trivialized. Connections of every sort are ubiquitous, yet mostly those connections are used to conduct discrete transactions rather than to develop ongoing relationships. If a new online merchant is selling a case of toilet paper for 50 cents less than the merchant you bought it from last time, you’ll likely buy from the new merchant. Optimizing the transaction has become more important than nurturing the relationship. Every transaction gets handled, interpreted, valued on its own merit. There is no overriding context to give transcendent meaning to them. So, paradoxically, as we become more connected functionally, through discrete transactions, we feel less connected on a human level. Our connections are transient, and getting more so. We connect over much longer distances, and over much, much shorter durations.

The concept of connection is in danger of being corrupted. We try in vain to replace a single robust, enduring connection with a thousand brief, transitory connections. And it is not the same. There’s value to enduring connection that cannot be experienced in any other way. A hundred likes, shares, comments about an article on Facebook do not adequately replace the wise commentary of a trusted friend. The same goes for Yelp or Amazon or whatever. We used to seek recommendations from trusted friends. Now we search for ratings and reviews from people we’re not even sure are real.

The withering away of meaningful human connection in life has real and serious consequences on a personal level as well as on a wider, societal level. In May of 2018, a major health insurance company reported a startling increase of 33 percent in the diagnosis of depression in the US between 2013 and 2016, based on 41 million health records. For youths aged 12 to 17 the increase was a much more alarming 63 percent over the same three year period.

Throughout history, meaningful, durable, high-quality connections have enabled individuals and cultures to thrive. Life can be difficult, and much more often than not, those difficulties are best addressed by joining together in cooperation and understanding. Connections are what have built the civilization from which we benefit in so many ways. Certainly there have been countless disagreements, clashes, and conflicts along the way. Yet the greatest progress has come when people are enabled and incentivized to build and maintain positive connections.

With all that in mind, the question becomes this. How do we avoid further disconnection, and how do we repair, re-energize and expand on the quality connections that bring so much positive value to life?

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--Ralph Marston

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