ELC501: Human beings harbour a deep need to belong. On a biological level, belonging is survival: English for Critical Academic Reading Assignment, UiTM, Malaysia


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ELC501: English for Critical Academic Reading

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Human beings harbour a deep need to belong. On a biological level, belonging is survival: If we’re not part of the herd, we’re left behind and die. In modern times, we need to belong to something larger than just ourselves to survive emotionally. We need to belong to feel accepted, loved, known, and, in a word, well.

Community is something we belong in—and to. If we break down the word “community,” the root is “common” and its suffix is “unity.” A community is a place where we share a common unity with others. A place where we belong.

In recent times, however, our experience of community has profoundly changed, primarily as a result of our world becoming an online world. So much of life happens on screens these days, especially because of the pandemic. For many people, social media has become the new shared space, the place to socialize and find community. We simply don’t gather in person, face-to-face, like we used to.

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The makers of technology likely intended it to bring people together to create an actual community and a richer experience of life. Regardless of the original intention, however, it seems that the system has turned on itself. Recent studies have found that despite being more connected, people feel more alone and less “in community.”

As Sherry Turkle, a social psychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology puts it, “People are more connected to each other than ever before in human history. But they’re also lonelier and more distant from one another in their unplugged lives.”

In my own book, “The Power of Off,” I wrote: “Sadly, with technology, we risk winning the world but losing our village. We can be part of a community made up of people all over the world but not talk to the few people who share a bus stop with us every morning. Though known by everyone, we are increasingly known by no one.”

According to research conducted at the Centre for Cognitive & Social Neuroscience, at the University of Chicago, the more face-to-face interactions we have, the less lonely we are, while the more online interactions we have (the sort that doesn’t lead to face-to-face contact), the lonelier we are.

The problem is not that we are creating new sources of the community but that online communities simply cannot offer the same emotional nourishment that physical communities can. Even as online communities are part of our daily life, we still need to come together physically to feel truly connected.

When the waitress at the local diner asks us if we want our “usual” or the coffee barista notices that we weren’t there the morning before, such experiences make us feel grounded, connected, and happy. Our need to belong, to feel included and part of something larger than ourselves, is met at a primal level when we are part of a physical, real-life community.

Being together and sharing space with other people becomes part of our cellular makeup in a way that’s different, emotionally, and neurologically, from sharing something at a distance through the computer. Our body absorbs and retains in-person experiences on a deeper and more integrated level than online experiences. A hug, holding another’s hand, physical touch—all these release endorphins in our brain, which make us feel good, and which the online community doesn’t offer. Bodies respond to other bodies. The heart responds to direct human contact

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