Barbara L. Fredrickson has just completed new research on how social connection impacts on our physiological connection. It suggests that one of the costs of increased electronic access is that it impacts on our biological capacity to connect with people :
The human body — and thereby our human potential — is far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize. The new field of social genomics, made possible by the sequencing of the human genome, tells us that the ways our and our children’s genes are expressed at the cellular level is plastic, too, responsive to habitual experiences and actions.Work in social genomics reveals that our personal histories of social connection or loneliness, for instance, alter how our genes are expressed within the cells of our immune system. New parents may need to worry less about genetic testing and more about how their own actions — like texting while breast-feeding or otherwise paying more attention to their phone than their child — leave life-limiting fingerprints on their and their children’s gene expression.When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.If you don’t regularly exercise this capacity, it withers. Lucky for us, connecting with others does good and feels good, and opportunities to do so abound.So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
This is quite a powerful conclusion. It seems to provide more meat to Nichola Carr’s assessment in The Shallows. He suggested that the internet is changing us in ways we may not have realised before. Despite the wide benefits the internet has brought, it is also having a fundamental impact on the physiology of our brains, altering not only the way we perceive reality but how we actually take in information and process it.
If Fredrickson is right these dangers are very real because at stake is “capacity for humanity”. It reminds me of the words of the Psalmist who warned against the danger of idolatry:
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Psalm 115)
Simply put those who hold onto to idols lose their “capacity for humanity”. We are truly human when we find our true purpose in the God who created us. We are made in his image, so the more we reflect on him and shun these idols the more we become like him. How can we tell if something has become an idol in our lives? Tim Challies's Next Story answers for us:
One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. It may be something that we look at right before we go to sleep and the first thing we give our attention to when we wake up. It may be the kind of thing that keeps us awake, even in the middle of the night.That thing of course is precisely the thing Friedrikson warns us to steer clear of. I pray God enables me to heed the warnings of this research and the words of Scripture.
Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013