Technology continues to expand our ability to get “connected.” As a result, we have more opportunities to stay connected or get reconnected with friends, family, coworkers, and the larger world beyond our neighborhoods. Staying connected with others helps to meet a strong human need to feel we “belong” in a relationship with others.
Ironically, as today’s world gets more connected, we are also battling greater levels of isolation which runs in a vicious cycle with addiction.
If you speak with someone who leads a Twelve Step program for addicts or a counselor dealing with similar issues in people who have not yet admitted their addiction, they all will tell you about a common theme in the cycle of addiction, it starts with isolation. When we experience a period of loneliness or we make certain choices that drive us into isolation, we often reach for a soothing remedy that, if we are not careful, breeds an addiction and the cycle continues. Our remedy may change, but the cycle continues.
As we continue our journey to build and strengthen our character, having the strength to maintain connection and avoid isolation will be a strong defense against the risk of addiction.
We are all familiar with the addictions that grab the headlines like drugs, alcohol, porn, sex, greed etc. There are many other addictions that don’t make great headlines, but we will save them for another writing. The process of addiction is pretty much the same; we run into some kind of struggle like a broken or troubled relationship, poor self-esteem, stress when a once sought-after dream becomes a nightmare, and we move into isolation. With isolation comes our search for a remedy and when we find it, often it becomes an addiction to help us to avoid the root cause of the struggle.
Addictions fill the void of our need for human connection when we become isolated. Addictions replace the healthy human bonding that results from face to face, authentic connections where tone of voice, body language, the spoken word, and touch bring warmth, caring, and concern.
Below are two points to of caution to help minimize the risk that our “connected” world can give rise to isolation and addiction:
- Technology will not replace the human need for the healthy bonding that results from face to face connections. Technology can help bridge the gap that comes with time and distance, but it cannot replace our basic need for the touch and feel of a face to face connection. We must not let the ease of technology enabled connections lull us into thinking that is all we need. Ask any grandparent about SKYPE. It is a great tool to bridge the gap, but it will never replace the hug of a grandchild. Ask any business traveler or their family at home about FACETIME. It is a great tool to stay connected from some dark, cold hotel room, but it will never replace the feeling of spending an evening at home. If we go too long without a face to face connection, the health of our relationships can be at risk.
- We need to be careful that the same technology that enables our world to be connected, does not become an enabler of “quick and easy” isolation which then opens the door to addiction. The greatest risk of technology becoming an enabler of “quick and easy” isolation is in the home. The technology and tools present in today’s homes enable isolation more than ever. With multiple smart phones, tablets, computers, and on-demand TV programing, most family members can easily retreat to their own “corner” in the house. Despite how busy we all seem to find ourselves, academic research and our own honest assessment of time in our homes would highlight that we still manage to spend a great deal of time with our technology of choice. It is important to remember during those times we let technology serve our individual desires, we are most likely missing out on improving a connection with a child, a spouse, or a parent. When times are tough in our homes and relationships are in a real tailspin, the isolation that can come with technology is an easy, comfortable addiction to avoid the hard work of repairing a struggling relationship.
In today’s vernacular, my kids would say, YOLO (You Only Live Once) in addressing the complexities of our connected world. From some experienced Twelve Step folks, I am sure they would recommend YANA (You Are Not Alone) to help us address the complexities of our connected world. YANA is a strong reminder to help us minimize our periods of isolation that open the door to addiction.
When we put effort into maintaining healthy and needed connections, we build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity to stay connected with others and we build huge barriers to the risk of isolation and addiction.