The problem before us is one of finding ways to use the Internet to enhance and enlarge the human experience. We already know that it allows us to build relationships all across the globe in ways that have never been possible before. We have access to information that cuts across barriers of race, gender, ethnicity and geography. We can communicate instantly about matters of great importance to the human community. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that every last one of us has a core, a heart from which we experience the world, It’s true that some cultures, such as the US, stress individuality while others emphasize the collective. But either way we still enter this life as the pilot of our own human space ship. We experience the world in a feeling way from within our own bodies. From that vantage point we are vulnerable to hurt, disappointment and loneliness as well as the defensive maneuvers we employ to protect our fragile center. When our hearts are unattended we can become selfish, callous, and ruthlessly competitive.
In this digital age, it is our fragile human center that is at risk. While the Internet can provide us with thousands of “friends” and viral acclaim, its ability to touch our hearts in a personal way is, in my mind, questionable. How many times has a video game brought us to tears? On the other hand, when has a story about an act of charity uplifted us and inspired us to be better people? It’s certainly possible. I love reading anecdotes about people who have saved a puppy from drowning or paid someone’s grocery bill at the checkout counter.
I have received touching e-mails of appreciation from friends about some kindness that I performed which I may have even forgotten about and it has made my day. I recall an especially moving e-mail from a young mother whose little daughter had had incredibly difficult and life-threatening medical problems from birth. The daughter’s illness brought our whole community to its knees. The procedure was successful, at least for the time-being, and when I watched the little girl walk in I felt tears of gratitude streaming down my face. Her mother saw me crying and, after they moved away, sent me a beautiful e-mail, thanking me for caring about her child.
But it is a challenge for all of us NOT to get caught up in the self-aggrandizement and rampant narcissism that feeds on scoring points, winning battles, humiliating enemies and accumulating followers. We all have a need to feel powerful and competent. In order to moderate the exploitive use of power it must be balanced with other motivations. I love the quote from Michael Eigen (Emotional Storms. 2005, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT) He states:
“It is not a matter of undoing or subduing our need to exercise power, the pleasurable power we feel in exercising ourselves. It is more a matter of situating our sense of power within a larger field of experience so that it is balanced by other factors (traditionally, justice, love, common sense, wisdom among them). In this context, power interacts with, and is distributed through, considerations beyond itself. (pp. 26-27)”
The task before us is to find ways to strengthen human connection and teach our children to do the same.
With the help of the beautiful and creative young people coming into the world we need to mold the Internet into a living, breathing entity with heart and ethics, love and justice, compassion and gratitude, through which we can all participate to enrich the human family.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.