Humans are fundamentally social beings – this is a point on which both social scientific research and Jewish religious thought agree completely. As we read the Jewish origin story of the world and its inhabitants in Breisheet (Genesis) this week, we are reminded in no uncertain terms that it “is not good for humans to be alone.” Loneliness and isolation are among the most challenging emotional states a human can experience, and when they are prolonged, they have significant impacts on health and mental well-being.
We recently learned from the ADL that (not just anti-Semitici) hate speech has ramped up during the current election cycle, and that it has been particularly virulent on platforms like Twitter. It doesn’t take a social scientist to understand that it is much easier to spew hatred in this format, when it is anonymous and not face-to-face (though that doesn’t stop us social scientists from researching the phenomenon…), so it shouldn’t be surprising that it has gotten worse with the rise of participants in these platforms.
Sometimes when we look at the trajectory of human advance, it seems that the more we grow in our technological prowess, the more removed we become from our interpersonal relationships. On the one hand, having the ability to interface globally provides incredible potential for connections. On the other, when we choose to text rather than speak face to face we lose crucial non-verbal cues that our brains evolved to read and evaluate in order to understand other people. You can see the echoes of these cues in the crude emoticons and emojis that we use to accompany our texts, or in the 7 limited variants of a “like” we can use on Facebook. These rough imitations of interaction simply don’t do the trick.
Tying these threads together, if it is human nature to thrive on relationship, family, and community, we should focus on our finite time and energy on maintenance of these crucial means for sustenance.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,