This was the slogan of an internet company I worked for some time ago. In retrospect it was a misguided effort to differentiate from the rest of the internet which, as you may know by now, was also remarkable for being “always on.” The point of the internet, besides the information sharing part, was and is accessibility. It is its jaw-dropping facility to provide non-stop connection to resources and people.
While this revision of Maslow’s hierarchy is hilarious (or at least I think it is) the additional section is a redundancy. Access to WiFi as a fundamental human need is only restating that access to connection – see “Belonging – Love” on the middle tier – is fundamental.
What I am not clear on, and what I think very few people are clear on since we are still in the early adolescence of our use and understanding of these technologies, is how much of the “old school” qualities of connection these “new school” resources can actually provide (I’m pretty sure Maslow was working from an assumption of real-time, in-person relationships). If only using my own behavior as a sample of one, I notice a shadow over my need to be always on. Because I don’t know what might be coming, or what I might find, I inhabit my phone and my email with a sort of anticipatory anxiety of need fulfillment. I have learned that I am not unique in this. There are different flavors and varieties, of course, but the hunger for connection is so great and the ease of access so high that expectations have skyrocketed. When I am disappointed that the only things that have arrived in my inbox overnight are the same old subscriptions it is a sure sign that I am taking for granted the connections – again, the belonging and love – that exist for me in my very household!
Do I assume that I know the capability of those relationships to fulfill my needs for connection? Do I allow the mystery and myth of some unforeseen validation to distract me from that which exists in the morning greeting of my daughter or the tail-wagging enthusiasm of our dog? Apparently so.
The internet, email, texting, none of it came with a guide-book for how it can help to enhance human relationships. We have to figure that part out on our own. As for my steep learning curve I must admit that (A) I am in deep and continuous need of validation, connection, support and love and (B) that I have a mountain of it right in front of me.
To my great benefit and continuing astonishment it is always on.