Online learning is booming under lockdown. Significantly, an online course on happiness at Yale University attracted in March alone half a million new learners. Probably our current painful state of dislocation, or lack of psychosocial integration, makes us long for a better state to be in.
Happiness goes even beyond psychosocial integration which encompasses our sense of autonomy, our sense of achievement and our sense of social belonging. According to Bruce Alexander psychosocial integration is “an essential part of human well-being”. Happiness encompasses far more than just well-being.
Jonathan Haidt breaks happiness down in components. He concludes: “people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving for the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will arise.”
The relationship between online communication and happiness is not a simple one. The online road to love can be opened up by warm communication. This type of communication, as we have seen, is experienced as empathy and a shared perspective on things that matter and leads to tolerance, sympathy, and friendship, and beyond that, possibly, to love. But, as the MTV-show Catfish shows time and again, often the experience of love is a projected experience.
Online communication can make work easier – it saves traveling and absolves us of a lot of hours of meaningless meetings. But, probably because of a lack of spontaneity, online bonds are less durable, less effective and more tiring. Still, when done right, online communication might help us to forge a secret bond between work colleagues and even create a kind of work sect. Nevertheless, this bond as a sense of purpose and meaning will most likely turn out to be unsustainable in the real world.
To achieve a meaningful online relationship with something larger than ourselves we would need to meet another person online as described by Philip K. Dick, or online enter a new world without preconceptions to derive new sense and meanings. This does not equal escapism as provided by entertainment, although it is a way to escape the world.
I myself have never forged a relationship with something larger than myself online. My template for this kind of relationship is in my offline drawing, in the form of necessity. My digital drawings fall in a totally different category. They rather co-fulfill my need for achievement. To be honest, I am skeptical about meaningful online relationships with something larger, given the current state of our technology. The way I viewed the world in my drawing period – none of the characteristics that came to me belonged to defined objects – seems incompatible with how programming works. But that is just my limited perspective. I am open to meet with other perspectives.