“Everything is connected” is a concept that is as much enticing as it is illusionary.
We all want to belong — this much is true. We want to be part of something greater than ourselves: be it a community, an organisation, a family, a series of rituals, a spiritual practice, a cause; an ambition that is simultaneously noble and humble. But the powers who think they are (borrowing a phrase from Tiokasin Ghosthorse), embedded within a hyper-capitalist, globalising agenda, have a tendency to take this deeply rooted desire to belong, and twist it to justify their actions.
With techno-optimism they claim they are connecting everyone and everything: web 2.0 brought with it social media, and web 3.0 brought with it the metaverse. Regardless, the agenda is the same, and that is to “revolutionise” our relationships; indeed, to create an abstract notion of a “global village” (there is a strange, disturbing future nostalgia here). John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity, the creators of a video game engine used to develop immersive experiences, said that the role of the metaverse is to “feel like we’re together when we’re not”.
The idea of the metaverse is “the idea of a centralized virtual world, a “place” parallel to the physical world”. For those who think that this is a perverse distortion of what the internet was supposed to be, the truth is it’s not. The internet was heading in this direction all along: the development of technologies came with the claim of connecting us all, while in reality furthering their socioeconomic agenda of creating and solidifying extractive, consumptive markets. Douglas Rushkoff calls this an “anti-human agenda”.
“Instead of forging new relationships between people, our digital technologies came to replace them with something else. We live with a bounty of communications technologies at our disposal. Our culture is composed more of mediated experiences than of directly lived ones. Yet we are also more alone and atomized than ever before. Our most advanced technologies are not enhancing our connectivity, but thwarting it.” - Douglas Rushkoff, Team Human
This agenda has destabilised and uprooted social movements. Though it is more a spectrum than a binary, instead of place-based, localised agendas, there has been a rise of globalised, (perhaps artificially) interconnected agendas. We want to do everything, and we want to do it big; but at what cost? We’re now beginning to truly feel the effects of such globalising agendas. There is certainly a place for internationalist solidarity — and there is room for nuance here — but the flip side of trying to do everything at once, trying to connect everything at once, is this: feeling like we’re shouting into a void, hoping enough somebodies, and enough somewheres, will listen.
The anthropologist Tim Ingold writes this: “If, today, our world is in crisis, it is because we have forgotten how to correspond. We have engaged, instead, in campaigns of interaction. Parties to interaction face each other with their identities and objectives already in place, and transact in ways that serve, but do nothing to transform, their separate interests. Their difference is given from the start, and remains afterwards.” (It is no coincidence that these algorithmic social media platforms (mis)use the words “engagement” and “interaction”.)
Differences remain because we assume centralising, universalising tendencies: this is what the globalising agenda wants. For us to think that we are all coming together, uniting as one world, invisibilising differences, yet at the same time polarising them. Everything is, in fact, not quite connected: to tell ourselves this would be to be cementing the foundation of the illusion that the powers who think they are have created.
“Where do we get our idea of belonging from? What is true belonging? It seems that the whole origin of belonging is rooted in the faithfulness of place. Each one of us awakens on the earth in a particular place. This place was and remains full of presence and meaning for us.” - John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes
If not “everything is connected”, then the answer must be to start where we are, to grow roots where we are planted. As it is in the mysterious, enchanting world of the understory, trees in a forest are intimately connected in this way. Or as biologist and author Merlin Sheldrake finds more interesting: “the understory’s understory. All of these trees and bushes are connected with one another below ground in ways we not only cannot see, but ways we have scarcely begun to understand.”
How do we re-conceive of relationality, belonging and community in the context of place? How do we become “placelings” (in reference to John Hausdoerffer’s conception of this joy-based, identity-centred, rooting in place)? How do we at once recognise the particularities of the ecosystems we are a part of, and the complexities of our interwoven histories, and see that these are, in turn, part of a wider system, narrative and world that is deeply interconnected?
“… the textures and tastes that eventually come to predominate, the rhythms of community in our bioregion… will to a large extent be determined by the choices each of us makes in this cocoon-like, shape-shifting moment. The future will be sculpted, that is, by the elemental friendships and alliances that we choose to sustain us, by our full-bodied capacity for earthly compassion and dark wonder, by our ability to listen, attentive and at ease, within the forest of our unknowing.” - David Abram, “In the Ground of Our Unknowing”
In this demanding and fractured world, one full of online relationships, can kinship arise? How can kinship orient us towards greater individual and collective flourishing? Whether or not you have unorthodox relationships with rocks, or find your wings in the world of words, we invite you to explore kinship with us, and reconceive relationship in the contexts we find ourselves in.