From Isolation To Connection

From Isolation To Connection

How to Create a Community of Practice

May/June 2011

At the college where I teach, I often walk past groups of students hanging out together around tables cluttered with laptops, smartphones, and iPads. Somehow, they manage to carry on conversations while tweeting, Facebooking, Linked-Ining, pinging, chatting, and e-mailing others in far-flung places around the world. These days, we’re always hearing about how the Internet isolates people—everybody attached to their own little devices, oblivious to the “real” life going on around them. It’s been observed that as we collect thousands of online “friends,” we tend to communicate less with friends face-to-face, or even on the phone. But these students seem to have resolved this dilemma: they take full advantage of their individual devices, while maintaining their face-to-face connection with their buddies, seamlessly merging these two worlds in a way that enriches both.

This kind of social connectivity is something that therapists might well envy. It’s an odd paradox that psychotherapy—which famously succeeds or fails on the quality of the human connection between therapist and client—can be a deeply lonely profession. We spend all day “connecting” with clients, but these are predominantly one-way relationships; we’re there to support and listen to them, but they aren’t there to support and listen to us. Once the last client has left our offices, often we leap immediately through the online portals of our computers to scan our overstuffed inboxes, answer a few…

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