Despite Lessons of Trapped Chile Miners, We Risk Needed Social Cohesion by Embracing Isolating Entertainment

Summary: The denial of some video games and music players to the formerly trapped Chilean miners illuminates contemporary society’s disregard for group cohesion and provides lessons on how we can execute an act that is essential to life: showing consideration for others.

Please Don’t Forget Me and Us in This Cave of Ours

The 33 Chilean miners’ underground entrapment may have lasted 69 days, not a lifetime, and it may have taken place in a dark cave as foreign to us as the surface of Mars, but their story is the story of us all.

We are all sharing a cave or caves with others, trying to make our way to a better place. There are a lot of them, a cave for each group you’re a part of. A country cave. A city cave. A family cave. A couple cave. A “cave” is a situation you share with somebody else that has an ending toward which you race. And even if you live life on your own, you are not doing it solo.

How do you want to make that journey?

The lead psychiatrist on the rescue effort of the miners said that you better not make it alone. In this Washington Times article, he made clear the importance of remaining connected with your group:

Though some miners have requested them, sending down personal music players with headphones and handheld video games have been ruled out because those tend to isolate people from one another.

“With earphones, if they’re listening to music and someone calls them, asking for help or to warn them about something, they’re not available,” Dr. Iturra said. “What they need is to be together.”

But I imagine this type of consideration is never given to most of the situations most of us find ourselves in. After all, we are not buried in the dark with precarious access to the necessities of survival.

Nonetheless, the dynamics of a group operate in 4-bedroom suburban home just as much as they do half a mile underground in the Chilean desert.

In a place like New York, it’s common to see someone with earbuds in and iPod volume maxxed. People check their mobile phones at dinner. I’m getting pretty good at Galaga on my G1 while riding the subway.

All these little moments of mentally disconnecting yourself from the group situation you are in have a cost: cohesion. But just what is cohesion? It’s concern for another. It means evaluating your own actions in light of how they might affect another. It means sometimes not taking something you want because it could hurt someone else.

When you become unreachable to the group, your allegiance to the common consideration becomes questioned. Do you care? Do you know about it? Will you show any concern for me if we face a problem? Am I important to you? Should I make a sacrifice for you if you’re not going to make a sacrifice for me?

Here’s an example: traffic lights. We all agree in the United States that red means stop. Some of us cheat on this, but the expectation is there. Now throw someone rocking out to Jay-Z or high-scoring on Tetris into the middle of a busy Manhattan intersection. The light is yellow, verging on red; our headphoned friends are stepping onto Broadway a 41st. A frothing herd of swerving taxis is punching its way south. Is our walker watching? Playing the same game? Who’s going to stop?

Of course, you may not consider yourself part of the group you are so effortlessly cutting yourself off from. And being connected with a group comes with costs. Critical thought, so key to evolution, can be lost in a striving for loyalty and uniformity.

But separating from a group, criticizing it, is easier than rebuilding one after it’s destroyed. And though I embrace every modern entertainment option, and though I am in no position to criticize, I can guess that a dark side of kick-ass video games and iPods might be a fracturing of the group because of the isolation chamber in which modern media can put people.

But that can’t be new. I have no evidence, but surely every new toy was deemed a threat by somebody. I’m sure someone argued that board games were of the Devil. Yet something is different with today’s technology.

Entertainment options today offer an unprecedented level of sensual engagement, affordability and ubiquity. The ease with which we can separate ourselves from others while maintaining an illusion of connection with a group is astounding.

By illusion, I mean that I could say that I’m connected with other “Empire State of Mind” fans while I hear that song on my Shuffle. But really, it’s an abstract bond at best. It’s characterized by large gaps in time and space between contributors to the relationship. It totally lacks the obligations, rewards and costs of a flesh-and-blood tie. It feels real, but it lacks tangibility.

This type of relationship is becoming a huge component of modern life because of the ease, speed and ubiquity of technologies allowing us to directly or indirectly communicate with one another across vast gaps in time and space.

But if life is something we do together, if this world really is just a sometimes-comfortable, sometimes-terrifying cave in which we all find ourselves, then we better not forget to take out the earbuds, put down the toy and remember that “us” is just as important as “me.”

h/t Kotaku

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