Isolation in the internet age

Senior medical writer, James, examines how we can maintain connection in the internet age

Produced by: James Yates

If you’ve not listened to it before, maybe you have heard of the ‘High Performance Podcast’ by Jake Humphries. I went through a short phase (a matter of days, if not hours) of playing it in the background whilst I worked. I wanted something intimate that I could dip in and out of whilst I concentrated on other things. I wanted to learn about people and listen to their stories.

 But I found myself feeling bored by it. Why?

 There was a focus – almost an obsession – with being productive. Spending every available minute chasing and perfecting a ‘high performance’ day. Discussions around morning routines, 4:30am alarms, ice baths, and NutriBullets felt forced and lacked any sense of charm and imagination.

 It was all very clinical and efficient. Every minute of every day was accounted for, and it was put to use for the attainment of what seemed like their ultimate value – Productivity (which has been capitalised to give it the reverence it is awarded in this culture).

 This isn’t to say that productivity is a bad thing, it isn’t. This approach has clearly worked for the guests on the High Performance Podcast, otherwise they wouldn’t have been invited on and we wouldn’t know who they are.

 Productivity is what ours and most other industries need to optimise in order to thrive. And we all want to do a good job for ourselves and our clients. 

 However, productivity is only a part of the story. In the pursuit of maximising Productivity, they had put all of their time to use, and left no time for idleness. This idleness is a vital part of the picture that is often missed in our culture. 

 What do I mean by idleness?

 It’s something in between inactivity and leisure. Today we might call an aspect of it ‘stillness’. It can come in many ways. For me, I can be ‘still’ or ‘idle’ when I’m walking, cycling, swimming, running, or even chatting. So, it’s a mental idleness I am referring to, not necessarily a physical one. 

 A further clue comes in the word’s etymology. Idle comes from the old English word idel meaning: empty, void; useless; pure.

So this idle state is one of mindlessness, self-reflection, processing, creativity, and connection with self and others. Its making space for something new and spontaneous. It’s about being with somebody else and learning to be alone with ourselves simultaneously. Pascal believed this ability could cure all of humanities problems. Although that is probably a bit of a stretch, it would represent a step in the right direction. 

The seed of Einstein’s theory of special relativity sprouted while he was performing a mindless task. Same goes for Newton before him. 

Kiekegaard held idleness and mindlessness in such high regard that he believed that those who lack a sense for it and cannot withstand its uncertainty “shows that he has not raised himself to the human level”. Which seems somewhat grandiose considering he is talking about basically doing nothing but being present, but it is more difficult than it sounds.

The thread linking all of this together is connection. 

Connection to self and others. There’s a third aspect too, connection to place. If you’ve ever wondered why some cities are better than others, the chances are it’s because they have good ‘Third Places’. 

A Third Place is somewhere you go that isn’t work or home. They’re the town square, libraries, gyms, pubs. Just somewhere for people to go and ‘be’ together. Cities like Rome and Athens are full of them. 

In the internet age however, these have been replaced by online spaces. There are clearly numerous benefits to the internet, and I won’t list them here, but it means that First Places are merging with Second Places which are merging with Third Places. In simple terms, what is usually the First Place (the home) is now all three – home, work, and the ‘town square’.

In the modern world it’s difficult to carve out time for a second job in a post office, to sit under an apple tree for days on end or wander the cobbled streets of Rome. It means we have to be deliberate about getting offline, going outside and finding our own third places. To connect with ourselves, with others, and with where we live. 

It could mean talking to baristas and shop assistants, or joining a club or martial arts gym and being deliberate about talking to people after classes. It could mean that instead of elaborate morning routines with meditation and affirmations, you just go for a short walk when you wake up.

A healthier, more connected, and integrated person may not be the Productivity King, but will rather be productive over a longer timeframe. It’s not about ‘downing tools’, it’s about finding balance.  After all, as the old saying goes, “he that never labours may know the pains of idleness, but not the pleasure”.

Sometimes it can be difficult spontaneously initiate these interactions, people are busy or just not in the mood. Organised spaces and events where these interactions are encouraged are also vitally important. At Mednet Group, we recognise the need for connection by organising monthly social events, which include a day-long charity walk, a summer BBQ, and cocktail making events. 

We also recognise the need for more formal spaces for people to open up in a safe and accepting environment. With men ending their own lives at four times the rate of women, and showing no signs of slowing down, we felt a need to do something about it. Which is why at Mednet Group we have set up a men’s group for men to come along and share what they need to.

What are you doing to bring yourself closer to others in the age of isolation?

Seeking to elevate the way customers interact with your brand?

Seeking to elevate the way customers interact with your brand?

Seeking to elevate the way customers interact with your brand?