Three Ways to Build Honest Connection in The Virtual Age

Updated: Feb 10, 2019



It doesn't take much digging through current media to find case after case, article after article claiming that Millennials are "killing" industry after industry. They have become zombies by technology, and they do not know how to relate to one another and when it comes to Gen Z, the forecast is even more grim. There are no honest connections anymore. School shootings happen because kids today are addicted to their smartphones. Technology is ushering in the apocalypse. Human relationships have been replaced by social media. Dating and sex has been replaced by hookup apps and online porn. However, I would make the argument that it is not human connection that is ending, but it is the way we relate to one another online and IRL (In Real Life). It is up to us to choose to use these tools wisely to create a future where we are “plugged in” with technology and ourselves. Current technology is becoming more integrated into our lives and allied with the way we work and think. We are no longer "zombies" in front of the so-called, idiot box, television. In fact, we have much more choice concerning the ways we interact with media, and we are capable of building our own unique narratives.

In previous years, the media has been able to create a constructed narrative to fit how they want you to react to them. Your reactions were not yours, they would the ones they wanted you to think or feel you had. They captured your mind and you were not free to choose for yourself. How did you live before that miracle product that you didn’t know you needed? Your life will change now for the better because you have bit the hook. The world of media and advertising was based on this ability, however with the internet we have begun the democratizing of media. Now, anyone can share their thoughts on anything. Most of these opinions were probably not needed, but the content is not the significance. The significance is that anyone has the ability to connect with others who share the same feelings and thoughts. As we become more and more aware of what other real people feel and think, we are less susceptible to falling for the lie. This is something that Millennials, and I believe all future generations, understand implicitly. We understand that we have the ability to create honest connection, something that the mainstream media and advertising worlds fear most.

A perfect example of this fear is the recent article “Religiously unaffiliated ‘nones’ are pursuing spirituality, but not community.” In this op-ed Los Angeles Times writer, Stephen Asma, claims that through interest in personal spiritual growth pursuits such as yoga and meditation, millennials are “are adopting one of the least helpful aspects of organized religion (magical thinking) while abandoning one of the most beneficial (social bonding).” I counter his argument, but saying younger adults are not embracing “magical thinking,” but rather interested in exploring themselves and their relationship to the universe from an open-minded position, rather than one that is just as fundamentalist as religious conservatives “Reality is only what science can currently explain” mindset. A scientific mind always remembers that there are things that which we do not currently understand and seeks answers to these yet un-answered questions. Many of these younger adults build strong bonds with others on this journey through events, social groups, online groups, discussion boards, and more outlets that were not available to previous generations. It strikes me as absurd that Asma claims that “millennials are not bonding” when the article itself contains a photograph of a group of 20- and 30-somethings in a non-affiliated spiritual community engaged in a Qigong class as a community. Recent previous generations have seen community as a means to an economic end and did not recognize what cultures of old did, community is about building lasting, sincere connections and meaning. I can attest to this from my own life. I have made more honest connections with others in “open source spiritual communities” than I have in traditional church where I grew up feeling isolated. The traditional church model creates unity through an “us versus them” model, while the open source community builds unity through a “we share more sames than differences” and individuals are allowed to choose their own mythologies and practices that support their own individual psychological well-being.

It is significant to note that the types of communities that are created in the Virtual Age are labeled as “Open Source.” Open source refers toa type of computer software whose source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. This implies that any member of these communities has the freedom to choose what practices he or she takes part and what beliefs that he or she may have. This encourages the internalgrowth of the individual, rather than externalgrowth of the individual. Relationships serve a deeper function, rather than act as social or fiscal stepping stones. The individual is enriched as much or as little as he or she wishes through the community. The structure is non-hierarchical and stresses equality. I believe that there are many possible benefits to forming these types of connections.

I believe that society must change to meet potential challenges and welcome the strengths. Three ways that I believe that the virtual age builds us up an individuals and as a community are vulnerability, empathy and introspection.

1. #vulnerability

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.

– Brené Brown, Social Worker

The “at-your-fingertips” world of online video is not perfect. It is shaky video, less-than-radio-ready audio, and bad lighting, but despite these flaws, YouTubers who film in their living rooms can be the “stars” of today. While some of these people have higher production standards, many online personalities gain their audiences in part due to their willingness to show their flaws. This make them vulnerable to criticism, yet this vulnerability draws in their audiences. In a world where CGI and airbrushing, seeing people who look and act like people is refreshing. Their willingness to be uncomfortable is what makes them relatable. It makes them real.

2. #empathy

Human morality is unthinkable without empathy.

– Frans de Waal, Scientist

When people are encouraged to be more vulnerable, they are able to more be empathetic with one another. In the world of text messaging, it may seem to some that people are not connecting. However, many people today use text as a means to remain connected to others. Access to others allows us reach out to friends, family and strangers in situations where we could never do so before. The immediacy of text message can be a helpful tool for those dealing with PTSD and life-saving to those trapped by crippling depression. It allows one to communicate when maybe they do not feel that they are able to speak or do not have the courage to see another person face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice. Being able to reach out to friends and family when they are hurting, allows us the ability to offer crucial empathy and compassion.

3. #introspection

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

– Carl Jung, Psychoanalyst

One thing that is often criticized about the world of bloggers and social media is that it is a very “external” activity. Posts are made to get reactions and attention from others. But, many online writers, especially bloggers, use this media as a journal where they are able to be introspective while sharing their insights with others. Blogs, social media, smart phones and more allow us to identify with one another, to see that they have internal feelings, struggles and harsh realities. While the dark issues of cyber-bullying and trolls are very real. I believe that by be selective in what we follow and with whom we share, we can build ourselves up through these technologies. This is where we go from a self-centered or ego-centric worldview to a more connected one.

“Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.”

– Louise Bourgeois, Artist

Community and connect are not coming to an end. Future generations are not doomed to be alienated. We must change with the times. We must embrace the positive possibilities, while being mindful of potential pitfalls. All change leads to forks in the road. Let us chose the road where our roads #connect. I am confident when we meet along the virtual road, we will find that there is more that is the same between us than what divides us. Show others who you are and you will discover that others deeply resonate with you when you honestly tell your story. Let’s remind one another that we are not alone, we have value, and our stories matter. #TellYourStory

Janae Jean has an extensive background in new media and music education. Janae is actively researching using electronically generated sounds for emotional and physical healing. Her blog, www.janaejean.com/blog, has more about her personal journey with music, her other creative projects, and wellness-related articles. While Perennial Music and Arts' blog www.perennialmusicandarts.com/blog contains material related to arts education.


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