Fragmentation (part 1)

Photo by Pamela Logan

Photo by Pamela Logan

The dictionary defines fragmentation as “the act or process of breaking into fragments”.  The results of physical fragmentation are easy to see in the Colorado mountains.  There are many, many big boulders that have broken down over the eons into smaller rocks.  Many of the big boulders have cracks and fault lines that will eventually result in fragmentation.

Fragmentation is also a social phenomenon.  Fragmentation is gradually happening throughout American society and culture.  What is causing this breakdown?  And if we can identify the cause, is there anything that can be done to stop or slow the negative effects of fragmentation?

Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Andrew, who spent part of last year living in a very remote and primitive village in rural Africa.  When he returned to the United States, he experienced cultural shock  as he observed countless people walking around while staring into their mobile devices, oblivious to the world immediately about them.  Each was actively engaged in the communication that the device was designed for, yet not communicating with those immediately adjacent to them.

Andrew went on to say that in his village in Tanzania, a person could not take two steps outside their door without being greeted and engaged by someone.  Inevitably questions followed: Where are you going? What is that you have? How are your children?  Is your wife well?  Face-to-face and direct communication was the normal, copious way of life in this village.

I suspect that this was also the way of life in the United States before the ‘smart phone’ became ubiquitous and the television consumed our evenings.  Have these modern devices actually made us individually or collectively smarter?  Does a smart phone or social media actually enhance communications?  Does television improve our lives?

I SAY NO, and I am no Luddite.

I own and use a smart phone, but not at the expense of ignoring those people who are physically present.  I endeavor to live and communicate in the moment – to be present in thought and communication with those who are physically near.

In a small, rural African village with no running water, no convenience store, no television, and no reliable electricity, sustaining the basic necessities of life is an everyday struggle.  Each member of the village relies upon others for survival.  Crops, livestock, weather, and the village source of water are all essential elements of survival for a closely knit community.

Communicating and relating to one another in such a village is essential for individual as well as collective survival.  If you piss off or ignore a neighbor, there are serious consequences.  You may never get the eggs necessary to feed your family.  If your son, in a fit of youthful negligence, accidently burns down your neighbor’s barn, the whole village’s survival is jeopardized.  All might suffer next winter from a lack of grain.  In such a village everyone is connected, because each individual noticeably contributes to the collective survival of the whole.

Here is the United States food is grossly abundant; resources are plentiful and readily available.  Fresh produce is shipped overnight across miles to the local grocery store.  Gas and electricity are available at the flip of a switch or lever.  In most cases, fuels are provided automatically with little human intervention – it just happens.  America has reached a point in our social and technological evolution that we may soon have a generation who no longer need face-to-face communication to obtain the necessities of life.

Neo’s virtual world, as depicted in The Matrix movie trilogy, might not be that farfetched if we continue to communicate solely through devices. Even today, a child can be conceived with no human intercourse.  The same child can be educated via online learning.  As a teenager, he can order his meals at the click of a computer mouse and never meet a friend while playing games in multi-user real-time virtual worlds.  Not too far in the future, a pizza will be delivered to the front door by a small, flying drone.  Today, almost all consumer goods and many services can be purchased on line.  No direct human interaction required.

What are the implications for such a world?  Do we want to propagate a world that is fragmented?  Where we don’t even know who our neighbors are?  Where we can live without direct social interaction – either positive or negative?

What do you think?  What can you do today to communicate and connect with those near you?

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About John Forrest

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