I probably see at least several headlines a week talking about our growing addiction to social networking on the internet. In the past year, Facebook has become the web’s most-visited domain. Experts regularly pontificate on how to cure ourselves or our children from this obsession.
To me, this isn’t very mysterious. At no time in the past have people been more disconnected from each other. Of course we want relationships–we’re programmed to be social beings. We’re often so desperate that we’re willing to substitute superficial “chats” for real conversations, status updates for actually being together.
I don’t believe for a minute that if we’d just get offline and go outside we’d find the people and relationships we need. We’re often surrounded by strangers and far from those we’ve loved. It takes time and courage, sometime also hard work, to be a friend and lover and fewer and fewer of us have the time to share just being with another person. Having broken off most of our direct contacts with the family and friends we grew up with, not because we fought, but because of our relentless mobility, we’re too often afraid that we now lack what it takes to attract and develop new friendships. We fear that we’re alone because we deserve it. Pleasantries with fellow workers, a friendly exchange with a waitress or a checker or with a client or a customer don’t penetrate the surface of either relationship or our need. We need real people, real friends, and, sadly, internet connections might just be the best we can get.
Rather than blame the victims, we should address the underlying issue. Our mystical tradition teaches us that the our strongest spiritual desire is to reconnect with the Creator, the One. Actually, we’re never disconnected, but a consequence of our material existence is the limiting of our perceptions. We have eyes and hearts of flesh, so, unless we actively focus on it, we quickly lose sight that we already and permanently are “hard-wired” into God.
Yes, we do have the Torah which acts as a guide, especially giving us rituals, a technology which restores one aspect of the awareness of the relationship But we’re also given our desire, our capacity to love and join with other people. It’s not one or the other, but both–we’re not one-dimensional beings, but each, rather, our own unique, infinitely-textured and layered microcosms.
Many early Chassidic masters taught that our desire to merge with another person is really our desire to merge with God, as expressed in the language of physical being. No wonder this is our strongest desire!
Rather than decry some people’s dependence on software substitutes, better to open ourselves to real-life people. We have to relearn, if necessary, awkward and embarrassing as it often is, the skills to make and be a friend. We need to believe in our own worthiness to be a friend, a lover. We need the courage to try, even if it means getting rejected from time to time.
We simply need each other.
Doing without, we’ll merely continue to self-medicate with one proxy or another as best we can.