It has been well over a decade since Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s book about social capital, was published in 2000. In that book, Putnam used extensive data to show how we in the United States have become less and less connected to one another. We join fewer groups, know less of our neighbors, and do not connect with our families. And this was all data collected before the advent of the smartphone and social media!
Look around in any public setting and you will see people who are not even aware of what is going on around them, as they are texting or surfing the web or talking to someone on their mobile phone. Go to a concert or sporting event and you are likely to see as many people recording the show or texting a friend about it than actually experiencing the event. Although technology has made us more connected than ever before, ultimately it can make us even more isolated, as we choose who we want to connect with and can largely ignore others in our physical environments.
Whether you call it social capital, connectedness, or social support there is ample evidence that we humans are social creatures and need connectedness to others in order to survive and thrive. So how do we increase our connectedness in our busy worlds that run at cyber speed? Here are a few ideas:
1) Have a family meal time. Even if you are not in a “family” you can have at-home meals with friends. My wife and her roommates used to have “family dinner”. One of my most fond memories of young adulthood is a Thanksgiving meal I shared with other friends who were far from family at that time.
2) Join an organization that interests you and be active in it! No matter who you are there is likely an organization of people who share your interests. But don’t stop there. Be active in your organization. You will get more out of it if you do. As the old saying goes, to keep it, you have to give it away.
3) If you have children and they play sports, consider coaching. There always seems to be a shortage of coaches in my son’s sports leagues. I have volunteered to be an assistant coach more than once. And yes, it is time consuming and yes, many times I felt I was in over my head and did not always enjoy the attitudes of some of the children or the comments of some parents. But you know what? It was worth every minute of it. Seeing a special needs child score a basket for our team, winning third place in an area-wide soccer tournament, and knowing I was a father figure to a couple of boys who did not have fathers at home did me more good than whatever work or other “important things” I may have done with that time.
4) Once you are connected, stay mindfully present. This means putting away the smartphone, quieting your mind, and entering into the experience. If you need help staying present, consider a regular mindfulness practice.
Connectedness was once a given. Freud’s therapy was revolutionary in part because it took people away from their usual social settings and gave them rare time alone with only their thoughts and an interested other. Connectedness and true community are no longer a given. We have to work intentionally to connect with others and find supportive communities. What can you do to increase your connectedness?