The Covid crisis has dramatically accelerated the use of digital communications. It is as if a new human ecosystem is emerging. There is a hot debate about whether this is a good thing. But this debate often ignores a bigger picture, which includes two other worlds, nature and the town.
Like it or not, we are being impelled into a digital ecology of virtual relationships. At worst It separates us from real connection. We see people addicted to their devices. Inhuman and out-of-balance!
There is of course another view. At its best, digital communication is for many a very comfortable medium, provides genuine connection and has the bonus of being environmentally friendly with less travel and paper.
But many people are concerned about the long-term effects. We may become robots.
But the digital world is not our only environment. We simultaneously exist in two other realms. Nature and Town.
Nature is our world of earth, water, air and fire; mountains, oceans, forests, animals, plants.
Town is our world of modern human society with houses, piped water, electricity, mortgages, education, television, industry and cities.
Historians, sociologists and commentators have long discussed this movement of humanity from nature to town. Looking back, this is the great sweep of human history:
Hunter-gatherer –> town dweller.
And we can see another great sweep happening right now:
Town dweller –> Digital persona
From this perspective we could suggest that the digital environment is a new human ecosystem.
In a previous blog I wrote about the ‘Global Brain’, which suggests that the electronic networks across the planet are creating a new cultural, psychological and psychic environment for humanity.
So it is that we now live in all three of these ecosystems: Nature, Town and Digital.
A problem arises if we are not comfortable in all three.
Some romantics may protest that we could be very comfortable if we returned completely to nature. Hm. Okay that may be possible for a few. But I would miss Shakespeare, Venice, the Taj Mahal and Machu Pichu just to begin my list. . .
So let’s be realistic about the facts. There are eight billion people on the planet and we have to self-organise. Towns, ‘civilisation’ and technology are inescapable. One of the most powerful social dynamics is to make this environment good for all of us. And that often means balancing town with nature. Without nature we lose wellbeing and balance.
Another reality. The digital environment is here to stay. It is unavoidable.
So here is my suggestion: We need to be competent and comfortable in all three spheres — nature, towns and digital. Being too focused or uncomfortable in one or two or all of them is unhealthy, unsustainable.
Keep the three in balance and we can create a harmonious future. That is what I want for us and for our children.