Here is something I am concerned about. . . Are we citizens of the United States of America gradually as a society becoming more and more self-enclosed as individuals, each of us in our own little hermetically sealed worlds? Are we becoming less able on a person-to-person level to "connect" on a deep level with our fellow human beings?
Sadly, I suspect we are.
I hope I am wrong about this, but in my observation, younger adults today seem less capable of truly opening themselves up to the inner personal worlds of other people than perhaps was the case, say, 20 years ago. I don't mean a mere superficial connection, but something deeper and more significant.
Now, I suspect that this has always been a weakness of American society. But, nonetheless, I think it may be getting worse.
Why do today's teens and twentysomething adults seem to be so solipsistic in the way they travel the journey of life? Well, in part (I wouldn't claim to have anything like a full answer to this), perhaps it has to do with how today's American culture is such that it provides the conditions in which a young person's life can very easily be extremely self-centered and excessively self-involved.
Think about it. We can now control almost every waking moment of the day to a remarkably large degree so that we are constantly bathed in a universe of our own personal preferences. If we want to live this way, seldom do we have to endure moments not filled with some sort of pleasurable diversion of our own choosing. And it is largely technology that has made this possible. Computers and the internet, cell phones, mp3 players, video games, etc., are changing some of us into persons who do not know what it is like not to have idle moments always accompanied by our favorite music, favorite games, internet surfing, messaging, etc. We are seemingly masters of our own interior worlds. In other words, our inner experience of life as human persons is more and more filled with self--with being able to please our desires in some way during large stretches of our days. Our lives are like private movies accompanied by sound tracks of our own personal choosing.
So, we go through the day listening to music or radio, texting, surfing, or watching our favorite TV shows (which we record on DVR so we can watch them exactly when most convenient), etc. Ironically, we are often around other people, but we have no significant human connection with them. We are protagonists in a one-man show. The people physically near us for so much of our day might as well be on another continent. We rarely open a space for others to "break-in" to the carefully self-controlled sound track of our personal lives.
We have ready access to amazing technology that enables easy person-to-person communication. But it seems, as we are more "wired" electronically and thus able to text a friend any time of day no matter where he is on the planet, we are more and more distant from the human beings around us. We are islands, or ships, moving on long ocean voyages, crossing paths, but each ship is going to its own private destination.
I believe we are becoming as a society even less able than in the past--especially young people--to have truly significant and meaningful interpersonal connections with other persons. We may relate to many people in a day, but it is often very shallow, insignificant, detached. If we do communicate to people we care about and have more significant relationships with, it is frequently in a manner that we control--when we want and in the manner we want.
Are we (especially young Americans) losing the so-important human ability to "connect" to other human beings on a genuinely heart-to-heart level?
Because we can keep ourselves so amused and occupied by a running soundtrack of our choosing, I fear we can only dimly recognize the incredible depths of meaning and power of interpersonal relations of which the human person is capable. We think the high degree of control over our immediate conscious environment gives us great freedom. But do we consider that in reality, this is making us less human, less persons who can relate to others on a real and profound level, and more like automatons? Can we, any more, grasp the value and nuance of the authentic interior world of another human person? Can we truly connect heart-to-heart, spirit-to-spirit? Do we notice when we are merely talking at others or tuning them out, paying more attention to an ongoing effort to constantly satisfy our own interior desires to be entertained and pleasantly diverted?
We should be on guard for the person-diminishing scourge of solipsism and ask ourselves, do we really listen to others, do we really want to know them, do we want to serve others more than ourselves? And it should, as so often, be clear that we must be always begging our Savior for the many graces we need to turn away from a life of self-enclosure and instead open the door of our hearts to others. Let us try to diminish our preoccupation with tweaking the soundtracks for our own lives and permit other persons the opportunity to play songs of their choosing on the stage of our souls.