Living In A Disconnected World

LIVING

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Part I

As a counselor at Rim Guidance, Lee Kennedy is in a position to learn a lot about how societal trends affect human behavior.

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"Anymore, what people call quality time is as a co-participant watching television," said Lee Kennedy, a counselor at Rim Guidance Center.

What she's seeing is a quantum shift in the way people relate -- or, more accurately, don't relate -- to one another.

"Before the 60s there was more inclusion at the expense of individuality," Kennedy said. "Now you have individuality at the expense of connection, relationship, family, neighborhood."

She cites example after example of people becoming increasingly disconnected from one another and from the support groups our parents and grandparents relied upon. It begins with the family.

"Anymore, what people call quality time is as a co-participant watching television," she said. "Or it might be multiple people in the house on their computers. Their mind is focused on something other than the family."

Neighbors don't connect much anymore either. In fact, the front porch -- a traditional neighborhood gathering place -- doesn't even exist anymore.

"The way houses are constructed today sends a strong message about the way neighbors socialize," Kennedy said. "Now people are more likely to attempt to connect online -- to have online friends in other cities and countries, but it's not the same as being in the same room with someone, or just sitting around talking."

Divorce rates began to skyrocket in the 60s, creating yet another reason to disconnect.

"One of the things somebody told me from one of the divorce recovery workshops was that losing a spouse was particularly awful because that person shared the memories of who they have been," Kennedy said. "When that person isn't there anymore you have to re-create your story with a new person, and that's a little artificial -- like doing monologues."

And divorce, of course, impacts the entire family.

"People need to work to live, and it takes a lot of energy to perform all the tasks as the only parent," Kennedy said. "You go to work and you come home and then you work at home.

"You're doing all the day-to-day tasks and there isn't anybody to support you. The kids are off in their bedrooms on the computer when they most need guidance, and they can fall through the cracks."

But even "normal" families are increasingly leading lives of turmoil -- often due to a changing workplace.

"People used to identify with the companies they worked for," Kennedy said. "The company and the people who worked there were sort of like a great big family; it was a lifetime commitment.

"Companies don't necessarily see their employees as permanent anymore; they're simply performing a function that's important at the time. Consequently there's a lot of movement from company to company to company."

Of course when people change jobs, they often move.

"People are moving more than they ever did," Kennedy said. "That can affect families, of course, but it also affects neighborhoods, because they are fluid also."

Even in traditional two-parent homes, both parents often have to work -- and they're working longer hours.

"That affects the dynamics of families," Kennedy said. "As opposed to everybody coming home and eating supper together at 6, dad or mom may be home at 8 or 9, or they may be on a business trip and they're not going to be back until tomorrow."

Kennedy is puzzled by another trend that she thinks disconnects people -- seniors leaving their families and other support groups behind to move to retirement communities hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

"That always surprises me because I wouldn't want to do that," she said.

"It's ironic that people who retire move all the way across the country where they don't know anybody. I don't know why people do that, but it sounds risky to me."

Of course, they make new friends, but Kennedy doubts that it's the same as what they left behind.

"People tell me their relationships are with people they haven't known for long periods of time," she said. "(Such relationships) almost have to be more superficial."

Add to everything else the simple fact that there's never enough time in today's fast-paced world.

"Being busy. Not having time -- I hear everybody saying those phrases over and over and over," Kennedy said. "I hear lots of people saying that they eat fast food, that they eat standing up.

"I don't hear anybody talking about preparing their own food or sitting down and eating at a table.

"And even when you do, you're thinking about what you're going to do next. You need to anticipate, organize, and plan, and your mind immediately starts going to the future.

"I'm wondering how many people find they're not really in the present, which is where you have the ability to enjoy and savor whatever is happening at that moment."

In a futile attempt to make up time, we often try to cram more into each day.

"Lots of people stay up late," Kennedy said. "They either do their chores late or they read late, or they watch something on TV.

"When do you ever have time to yourself -- when it's late. So people are not sleeping enough."

Getting run down is a perfect invitation for illness, but even that's not an option anymore.

"People say, ‘I can't get sick, because there's just me," Kennedy said.

She wonders where it's all leading.

"It just seems weird, like something's happening," she said. "These are the elements of it and you wonder if it will sort of peak or culminate in something."

One place she knows it's leading is to her office, and while it's good for business she doesn't think it's good for people.

"I don't want to go see somebody to give me help when I can talk to my family or friends," she said. "I'd like to have that option; I don't want to live in a world that's so disconnected."

The bottom line for Kennedy is that we're getting away from something very fundamental.

"I think we're social animals," she said. "I think we need connections. I think we need family. I think we need people who care about us."

Next week in Part II: how some people are coping in a disconnected world and some suggestions from Kennedy for reconnecting.

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