Fragmentation and Human Connection in a Digital World

Despite living in a world which displays chaos, division, and fragmentation in a digital world as a norm, we are truly more connected than we may realize. Rather than passively consuming the ‘news of a global world,’ we can play a more active role in shaping our community outcomes on micro scales than we may often think about. There are scalable positive outcomes for communities all over the world when people commit to their communities. While we may not determine every outcome in our lives, we each play a role in shaping the outcomes of our collective communities without a doubt. We are a piece of a larger whole in any situation. This is ultimately what social responsibility entails (and furthermore, the concept of CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility which has become a policy norm for businesses but has much to expand in).

Community Involvement Is Critical

Humans are social beings, we are not meant to feel disconnected, which the COVID-19 pandemic has shown far too many how devastating the impact of isolation can be. Community involvement has a more critical role to play than the ‘mere socialization’ that is necessary for a person’s health (which is critical for overall health). The health of communities is determined by the individual relationships which shapes it. This occurs and is displayed in nature. When I interviewed UC Davis postdoctoral researcher about his PhD research on ant behaviors, Dr. Daniel Ari Friedman, he stated that “Our research [on ant colonies] was some of the first that looked at how epigenetic and neurophysiological variation among ant colonies was associated with collective behavioral differences in natural settings.” Essentially, he is sharing that ant colony health is determined both by environmental factors and by the behavioral differences in how they respond to environmental changes. Essentially, being responsive and highly adaptive enables survival. This concept can be applied to community life more generally and how we play a role in supporting ourselves and our communities. Furthermore, this theory connects to networks (in technology) and complex systems theory more generally.

What Is Rhizomatic Theory? Why Does It Matter?

As a student at UC Davis I became familiar with Rhizomatic Theory, a theory by French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. In short, the rhizome represents a thought structure that is a metaphor for networks and connection: rhizomes (mushrooms) pop up at random. Nature reflects back to us a physical manifestation of thought.  Nature’s image is a reflection back to us as we are (for example, think about how we have damaged the Earth and we are now seeing the effects of this human generated damage on the earth in more catastrophic climate change events than ever).  If we show love, we see love reflected back to us.  The Rhizome itself, as a theory, is an image of a thought. It is a social map and a representation of all networks, similar to how neural networks operate in the brain.  

By comparison to this theory, Plato’s concept of the ‘tree theory’ is a well known concept that is rooted in the idea that all thoughts grow like a tree grows. Yet, the tree is a separate entity from other trees, so I believe Plato’s theory was incorrect in regards to the natural manifestation of ideas.  Deleuze believed that thoughts occur like rhizomes (mushrooms) and and we are part of an interconnected social map of rhizomes.  In rhizomatic theory, we are truly all one connected entity and there is no beginning or end in that framework.  We are all connected, we are not as divided as we appear. This theory can be applied in unending ways – for our community involvement, in technology, etc.

Empowering Human Connection + Networks Enabling This

If we recognize that our individual outcomes are tied in a way to the overall health of our communities, we all stand to live in a world that can be better equipped to manage and survive through growing climate disasters etc. Mutual cooperation, tolerance, and respecting differences serves our own interests more than people will readily admit. The concept of the individual and the individual’s imperatives should always be valued, but a sense of social duty to one’s community, in its purest, loving form is also natural (i.e. the maternal and paternal instincts). As Eckhart Tolle writes about how shedding the ego to recognize the awareness of the human condition as a temporary state, we stand to gain more in our shared narrative of being human. Our communities, across a multitude of spaces, serve as networks for positive connection if we consciously cultivate it. There is a reason that we teach “sharing is caring.” Sharing is caring and our collective survival might depend on it.

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