On the Nature of Connection and Disconnection

imgresWhat is the nature of human bonds in a time of radically increased connectivity? How and when do we connect and let go, and what are the values we associate with both? How does the availability of near-universal high frequency human interaction drive human evolution as both individuals and “colonies”?

No doubt weighty research psychologists and cultural anthropologists are thinking about these questions. My simple thoughts come from a long Thanksgiving week, one shared by most educators in America, a time away from school to be shared with family and friends.  I noticed a radical drop in communication across my social media streams. People disconnected from one or multiple sets of “work”-related hives to focus on different hives: family, non-work friends, neighbors.

Have we yet to find anything close to a balance where we can be connected to multiple hives at once? Do these hive-connections operate in opposition to each other, where attention to one draws us away from another? Do we need a four-day or week-long vacation from our school hive in order to properly pay attention to the “others” in our lives?

imgres-1Or will we create bridging mechanisms, mental, physical, and virtual, that weave together our hive-interests, that breach the artificial boundaries of “school”, “work”, and “life”? Will we find goodness in that weave, or will it steal from us a quiet and sacred place of aloneness?

Perhaps these are questions that should guide our discussions at school, amongst young and old learners.  How do I define my “self” in a time of inevitably increasing connectivity? Are we past the millennia where humans disconnected into quiet introspection to find a core of self-realization? By doing so are we cutting ourselves off from powerful hive connections that help inform who we are, might be, want to be?

I have no idea the answers to these questions; am pretty sure they don’t have “answers” in any common sense. I also don’t think the easy default is necessarily right: that only by disconnection can we truly find our identity as an individual. Perhaps we have more yet to learn from the nature of the herd, the school, the pod, hive, and clan. Perhaps there are really great elements of “tribalism” amongst all the negative connotations of that word.

Or not. But perhaps these are questions we and our students might ponder, an evolution of philosophy taking place right now, certainly at least as relevant as past philosophical evolutions that we ask our students to study and understand. We are evolving into a different “we”, and what can be more important to learning than that?

11 thoughts on “On the Nature of Connection and Disconnection

  1. Pam Moran

    Grant,

    We live in a world era that is different than any other. It’s been evolving as the speed of 2-way communicating moves more and more exponentially from snail mail to telegraph to telephone to email
    to cell phone to social media. Sitting in the living room, I’m watching Harry Potter on TV, texting with colleague re work issue, checking twittter feed, googling info and reading email. It’s multitracking real time. I’ll chat with my kid in NYC soon and text my spouse in another room at some point. Last night I chatted with my 93 yr old mother and I’ve connected with family and friends via FB. It’s nonstop – taking time to do some manual labor this morning was a relief. Our brains need times of quiet I believe when the neural network has down time to reflect through the senses. We need personal quiet time, we need face time, and we need connect time. Balancing those to find peaceful quiet, white space, and active buzz time is a new competency born of contemporary communications tech mixed with community and family needs. Learning how to do that is the challenge.
    Great post!

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Are we doing this in our schools? Are we dealing with this skill of balance as a required competency for adults and students? Probably not, right? We have the discussion, but it seems like more of a complaint session: “we need time to…”. Per normal, we don’t try to teach this as a competency; we hope that students learn it somehow amongst all of the subject time they spend. Maybe we can carve out time from civics, philosophy, study of Western Civilization, health and fitness, and other “subjects” to explore this evolution in progress, a lab test in real time with us as the rats.

      Reply
  2. Angel Kytle

    Very thoughtful, and wonderful questions! My brain goes to the metamorphosis of private and public time. In the past, we “walked away” for private time. Now we unplug. Is one better than the other, or just version 3.0? Do we yearn to unplug from work life only to plug in to personal life? Does a holiday facilitate the technical divide? I get your point- why does there need to be a divide? Due to our capacity to connect more than we ever have before, do we now crave dropping these type of connections for something much more physical and tactile? I do think we need to have some thoughtful dialogue on how we might design authentic experiences for our children (and us!) to choose deep connections and relationships-as well as the mechanisms for such- in an appropriate and purposeful manner.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      And, I guess, might we find some of what we used to seek in solitude amongst the hive, not separated from it? I don’t know, but am pondering that!

      Reply
  3. Bob Dillon

    My initial thought had me considering that I connect in three general ways: head, heart, and soul. In their infancy, my solitude feeds my soul, my connected learning feeds my head, and my time with family and close friends feeds my heart. In the best moments, I’m feed on multiple ways at once. I do believe we are learning how to blend these moments at the right balance.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      What a great way to think about various connections! And I guess what I am pondering is this: my soul seems to benefit from connections with others in new ways, as does my heart; those elements of our Self are so intertwined and feeding one seems to feed all; and some of those are when I am in connected mode perhaps more than in the past.

      Reply
  4. Sara Carter (@saracarterok)

    As a reminder:

    “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

    Effective communication really depends on the nature of the tribe and what works best for the members.

    ― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

    Perhaps it’s a fine thing to bump around to various ‘tribes.’ Or to investigate a new tribe.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Sara! That is sort of what I am pondering: with the ability to connect with many tribes rather than just one, is it a bad thing even when it means being connected (“on”) perhaps more than we think is “good”?

      Reply
  5. Mark Crotty

    Grant,

    As you know since you included me among the “philosophy peeps” on your tweet, your post touches upon issues that lie at the heart of my thinking in so many ways and which i have pondered in so many blog posts. I’ll comment on some of the many ideas bouncing around my mind as i think about your post.
    My first thought is that while it’s clearly about connectivity, it’s about some other issues related to it in various ways. One is the issue of time and how we choose to use it–emphasis on “choose.” We all have the same amount of time in a day; the difference lies in how we choose to use it. Too often we blame a lack of time for things, when the reality is that we have the power to allocate how we allot our time. Similarly, we will blame technology, i.e. “I got buried under e-mail.” Again, why do we cede control? The issue for me lies in making that connectivity meaningful and worthwhile. It’s why, for instance, I only follow so many people on Twitter and read so many blogs–and i sometimes cut off ones that aren’t worth it for me. I don’t mean that arrogantly. As an example, if someone mainly tweets out their school’s sports results, that may be great for their community; but the information gives me nothing. So the issue is how to make the most of the possibilities in the connections available.
    When I cut off my connectivity, as I did pretty heavily during the recent break, it’s for different reasons than you cite. I can find all the connectivity overwhelms my mind, and I simply need to detach for a while. That is when I’m still pondering things and making connections and sense of it all. Th’at when I enjoy those periods of slow, deep thought–the kind that occur in the background while you’re doing other things and so often lead to those breakthroughs.
    If we have to disconnect to pay attention to those around us in ways we should be normally, then something is out of whack. Too often it is the case, I’m afraid. And, yes, we should be working on this in schools. While plenty of things need to change in schools, at the best ones something essential shouldn’t: the power of the relationships.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Mark. I think your question about “what connectivity is meaningful and worthwhile” lies at the heart of my own question. As we adjust to a world that is changing, what elements are both essential and “good”, and what elements are attractive but may not be “good” for us? (So many loaded words there, but that is what learning helps us to sort out.) I am becoming a huge advocate of participating in this more connected world but I have to question if at some point one can become addicted to the connections.

      Reply
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