In days past, we would spend our waking hours alongside close others–either in work or in leisure. Today, most of us work with acquaintances and strangers, interacting in “professional” (e.g. impersonal) ways. Historically, our evenings were spent gathered together with friends and family, sharing stories, dancing, singing and talking. Now, evenings are spent either busy until late hours, or if down time happens, it most often is passed while gathered around the TV or computer screen. In the lifestyle of yesterday, when we wanted to contact someone, we had to go find them and speak face to face. Now we send one another texts, emails or snapchats, and verbal communication is more or less obsolete. Married couples used to spend considerable time face to face, now we have cluttered that space with screened diversions that prevent meaningful connection. We used to keep up with one another and sustain our friendships by having conversations and setting aside time to be with one another. That need is outdated now, as we socialize via Facebook, Twitter and other social media. In times past, when we “hung out” with our friends, we played games, joked around or had conversations. Now, much of our group “socializing” actually involves a great deal of time on iphones, videogames and computers–the direct engagement is diverted or moderated through the ubiquitous and omnipresent screen. In the past, we would have to deal with our emotional and interpersonal stressors directly through interpersonal support. Now we escape and repress our pain and instead turn to addictions, drugs, alcohol and other numbing activities.
Historically, we were more interdependent, sharing resources like food, childcare, transportation, tools, housing, entertainment, etc. Now we live in “Single-Serving America” where pretty much every family is a self-contained unit, and sharing has become unfashionable in the consumer-driven world. Entertainment too has been outsourced–no longer do we rely upon one another to prevent boredom and hold our interests, because we have movies, TV, YouTube, video games, pornography, etc. to fill that need. The human friendship is becoming unnecessary, and technology has taken over. Our highly-prized independence means we are no longer compelled to have contact with one another. We have little need to know our neighbors or rely upon friends and family in on a regular basis. We used to work when we were at work and be off when we are home. Increasingly the lines between work and home life are being blurred, and people are finding themselves always on the clock even during time that is spent with family and friends.
As we undergo these changes, we are also seeing an increase in mental illness in our country. Although correlation does not prove causation, there is certainly cause for deep concern that the human mind is suffering as a result of our engineered mental landscape. If we consider that the mind is a system of energy that depends upon social interdependence, mutual nurturing, reciprocal understanding, internal reflection and presence of focus, we can see that our new world is causing severe and insurmountable disruptions. What is more alarming is that no one has drawn a clear connection between the dramatic and forceful remodeling of the human mental world and our worsening psychological and social wellbeing.
The omnipresent screen may be crippling our natural psychological and social process, and we are seeing a corresponding decline in our mental, social and emotional health. Yet this correlation between screen use and mental health has not been examined thoroughly, as most of us don’t realize the connection between non-human exchanges and our psychological health. Unless we are proactive in understanding this process, we can expect to see a worsening of behavioral and psychological health, in an already impaired society. Yet, if screens are really the issue, then the complicated and expensive question of what to do to become more psychologically and socially healthy may literally be staring us in the face.