American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Our Wired World: The Emotional Impact of Merging Environments

Dr. Kathie Erwin

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In today’s “wired” world, separating work from personal time can be a challenge…particularly during the holidays! By accepting our “electronic tethers”, we allow the lines to blur in our environments. Consider the way that sociologist Ray Oldenberg (1999) defined the three basic human environments:

  • “The First Place”—the home
  • “The Second Place”—the office or workplace
  • “The Third Place”—recreation and social settings (p. 16).

As more people work away from the office (the Second Place) and produce part or all of their work from home (the First Place) or local coffee shop (the Third Place), workplace stressors have begun to invade all environments.

In the 21st century, these boundaries are less clear than in the original definitions. So many competing demands reduce the intended function of home (the First Place) as a refuge from the outside world. By adding social media, television, video on demand, reality TV, e-commerce, gaming and instant world news, the outside world breaks into the sanctity of the First Place.

Are Separate Life Spaces Important?

Oldenberg (1990) had a good point about the need to separate the places of life so that each has a meaning and purpose. What is missing from these environments is the value of a place of worship and spiritual refreshment. By adapting Oldenberg’s (1990) definitions, we can ask, is church considered another “First Place” as the spiritual home base or a “Third Place” as a gathering spot with other believers? Also, since the world is literally at our fingertips through the Internet, the question arises as to whether the person in the next pew with an iPad is following the sermon references on an electronic Bible or secretly checking email and updating Twitter? The more that the lines between these “places” merge and overlap, the less time is available to renew the spirit and rest the information-battered brain.

Within the church community there are the seekers, attenders and committed members. Based on the level of involvement, church could be viewed as a Third Place for seekers (finding community and checking out the social environment), a Second Place for attenders (those who view church as a Sunday obligation), and a First Place for members who know what it means to be “glad when they said to me let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1, KJV). Whether high-tech or low-tech, the church members who consistently show welcoming, warm and encouraging attitudes toward all can elevate church to its rightful position as a First Place of spiritual home base.

Emotional Wellness and Sustainability

Stokols et al. (2009) posed the question about emotional wellness in looking at how “individuals perceive, experience and respond to global threats in the context of their local communities and behavior settings” (p. 181). Can we watch horrific scenes of devastation from the recent Typhoon in the Philippines, then switch off empathy as quickly as we change the channels to a comedy? Some viewers may pause to send an online donation to the relief efforts, and then move on with their lives. How many viewers see news images of the typhoon and really make the connection that some type of natural disaster could happen in their community?

“Sustainability” is a buzz word that has merit, particularly in how poorly humans fulfill their biblical mandate to be “stewards” over God’s creation.  From a psychological standpoint, how emotionally sustainable is an environment in which lines of home/work/social are so frequently blurred? The reduced costs of commuting, setting up a comfortable space and flexibility of work schedules that are possible with working from home are clear advantages. Telecommuters who have a designated office space that can be closed from the rest of the home at the end of the work day have learned the value of creating a Second Place (work) within the First Place (home).

Unfortunately, telecommuters who are unable or unwilling to “turn off” work and refuse to disconnect from the laptop or tablet around the house have effectively allowed the Second Place to overtake the First Place. Such a lack of separation between these places is not emotionally sustainable and leads to increasing concerns about what Dr. Archibald Hart (2007) has so effectively described as “stress-induced anhedonia.” Functioning in a world with so much virtual stimulation, the pleasure center of the brain can easily become skewed. Added to that, we often experience internal conflict in mixed environments, where there is no specific plan that gives a non-verbal signal for rest, safety and tranquility.

With 2014 just around the corner, stop and consider: Where is the First Place, Second Place and Third Place in your life? Think about how those choices impact your emotional well-being and that of those you influence.

 

Kathie Erwin, Ed.D., LMHC, NCC is a National Certified Gerontological Counselor and Assistant Professor at Regent University. You can contact her at kerwin@regent.edu.

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