Is social media to blame for our disconnection epidemic? Deepak Chopra doesn't think so. To gain a deeper understanding and connect to your source, sign up for his new Yoga Journal course Finding Connection Through Yoga: A Workshop on Our Universal Oneness.
Almost half of Americans are "constant checkers" who can't look away from their emails, texts, and social media accounts, and it may be affecting their mental health, according to research released by the American Psychological Association last month. The study found that 43 percent of Americans check their gadgets constantly, and these individuals reported higher stress levels than those who do not engage with technology as frequently. Furthermore, almost half of constant checkers expressed feeling disconnected from their family members as a result of technology.
So, is "constant checking" and social media overload the cause of the disconnection that so many of us feel? Not really, says legendary integrative-medicine and meditation expert, Dr. Deepak Chopra, who leads Yoga Journal's new online course, Finding Connection Through Yoga: A Workshop on Our Universal Oneness.
Chopra acknowledges that social media has led to "an obsessive need to connect," and ultimately for some, addiction. "People who can't get off their smartphones are either bored, anxious, lonely, isolated, or in need of constant distraction. Social media may be the only way they have to alleviate their distress—20 years ago, TV served the same purpose. I wouldn't argue with anyone who claimed that texting and social media make people feel they are real in a world that spins more into unreality every day," he says.
But overall, Chopra thinks the benefits of social media outweigh the downsides. "I am an optimist about social media and use it every day to reach out to the world. I see it as a global nervous system glittering with activity," he says. "If social media allows someone to share their journey, either with their friends or the whole world, that is enough, I think, to overcome the downside—as long as you find sympathetic seekers to become part of your journey and ignore the skeptics, naysayers, and the like," he adds, citing the many support groups on social media as outlets for free or low-cost outlets for help, sympathy, and therapy.
While Chopra believes social media is a positive force in connecting people, he says its misuse and abuse is a problem when it hurts and marginalizes people. "I think the most alienated people are young, because adolescence has always been a confusing time when it comes to finding out who you are and where you fit in. When someone has low self-esteem, confusion about where they fit in, or psychological issues like depression and anxiety, that's the main concern." (Another recent study found that for young adults 19–32, heavy use of platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram was associated with feelings of social isolation.)
Rather than blame social media and technology for our current state of disconnection, Chopra thinks we need to look inward, using yoga and meditation as transformative tools.
"Yoga and meditation are all about the self—discovering what it really is, touching the core of silence in the mind, expanding your awareness to realize your essence as pure consciousness. Any step in this direction allows us to make the most important connection, which is with ourselves," he explains. "Without this, no one can be truly centered and whole. As yoga and meditation begin to have an effect, social disconnection, being external, starts to lesson. The lonely, distressed people who overload [on] social media are seeking an alternative to self-discovery, and I think there is no such alternative."