Staying Connected ... Enough

I was in third grade in 1960 as Marshall McLuhan began using the term "global village" to describe his understanding that human beings (who then numbered about less than half today's population) were beginning to have as communications technology redefined our relationship to one another in a world that seemed to be shrinking.

It was McLuhan who described the ways the "tribal drum" of electronic media would change our very self-definition from an assembly-line print culture to a world where we could connect globally to events (and eveventually each other) in real time . I wasn't reading McLuhan back then, but remember watching films like "The Sky Above, The Mud Below," a 1961 documentary about New Guinea contrasted with our nascent exploration of outer space. The film depicted our shrinking planet.

More recently, I watch the sky as I bicycle, meditating as I do on the connections that make my life meaningful. I recently wrote an op-ed piece titled, "Feeling a Sense of Connectedness" that pointed to my sense of connection "to the landscape, to the land, to those we share it all with, complete with the hawks soaring overhead, the deer around us, the cattle and sheep here and there, and the rivers, streams and ponds ...that lets us still grasp the big picture, even at a time when so many grow up with eyes glued on cellphone screens."

I'm fascinated with this sense of spaciousness, of wonder that envelops us in this rural area. It gives me a sense of meaning, as I know it does for others.

Those feelings of connection, for me, come from also working to connect with my inner self. Without that, by disconnecting from the dominating rat-race world and the hundreds of "gottas" on my checklist, I might as well be floating in space myself.

But in the years since McLuhan began imagining the media of the future, time has sped up, and we've all been consumed by "gottas" that seem to overwhelm our lives. Where once we missed some phone calls when we were out living life, we're now reachable 24/7. Even when we're not working, we're often working, or at least busy trying to catch up with ourselves.

We also seem to be chasing a hastening swirl of what I'd call nonsensical excess ... or excessive nonsense -- that seems commercially generated. Or our minds are being stimulated by ubiquitous media -- entertainment and otherwise. Airplanes advertise overhead while we're at the beach, trying to distract us from our cellphones. It's impossible to try reading an online article without being intentionally distracted by some manipulator trying to convince us we need more.

The news media also connects us with events, constantly -- whether they've just occurred, occurred recently, or are about to occur or could conceivably occur -- as if guessing at what all those realities or possibilities might mean. It doesn't concern anyone whether we care or not, or whether there are actually implications for our lives. Someone's working at convincing us to care, to suggest some connection that might not even exist.

And some of us truly connect with media to cut ourselves off, as we might otherwise use alcohol or other drugs. Maybe it's using the constant rush of "news" to cut myself off from myself or from actually being there for someone who's right beside me and needs a human connection.

I'm one of those people who's tried to "think globally, act locally" as the bumper stickers advised. But I've also learned the importance of working to "be here now," even as I try to be there for the people in my life.

Yet when I read the latest IPCC report about how critically genuine our worsening climate emergency is, or hear about the new wave of COVID cases and the implications for health-care workers and for all of those around me, or am hit with the latest political crisis in Afghanistan or Sudan, or the latest disaster in Haiti or Zimbabwe, I'm overloaded -- mentally, emotionally, and because of that, even physically. I want to shut my eyes, close my ears and simply be present to my inner self. Disconnect.

And when I return to the world around me, trying to filter out the excess that's bombarding and harassing me about contributing everything and more than I'm able, I need to remain clear enough to consider how I can help. After all, knowing I'm helping is also an important way to stay connected.

It's not easy, partially because we really are all one. Any separation is illusory. If you're hurting, I'm hurting. If the world is hurting, I can't simply go shopping, plug in my earbuds and pretend all's well.

Yes, pedestrians can walk down Manhattan sidewalks and ignore anything around them. Truly we've some accustomed ourselves to walking down any urban or semi-urban street or riding in the subway trying to ignore desperate ones coming at us or outstretched with signs pleading for help.I'm sure the streets of Calcutta, like many other cities, are filed with throngs who need to disconnect from their immediate reality. Yet somehow turning a blind eye seems another step toward dehumanization,.

In the Information Age, with access to all/more than the information we could ever want, it's good to remember that our parents were hardly aware of a 1973 coup ending Afghanistan's monarchy, or of Communists seizing power five years later in that place hardly anyone could find on a map.Then again, if we'd been paying more attention to geography ... or to the climate change already well underway by then, maybe we wouldn't be facing these realities today. If we are facing them.

Yet it's hard to remain entirely detached from the horrors taking place in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Iraq, in parts of Africa, and Israel and Palestine .... as well as in in our own country.

CONNECTING THE DOTS of how to stay connected, how to stay sane, sometimes seems daunting. How do I better connect with myself, to what I'm feeling and what's going on in this moment? That needs to be grounding for 'How do I remain connected to those closest me, to my community? Yet how can I stay in touch to be a mensch, a thoughtful consumer, a responsible citizen of Earth as it faces its greatest challenges?

Doing so may require choosing when to disconnect. Because those choices may help me hang onto my sanity and humanity, as well as a sense of who I truly am, as our world spins faster, shrinking bit by bit.


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