Disconnects – A Brief Initial Exploration

Posted on October 14, 2010 by Jeff Bloom

The initial question I posed on my previous post (What is the extent of the disconnects we experience today?) is almost overwhelming. Each of us, if we sit and think about it, can come up with a huge list of examples of the disconnects we experience in our lives. In some ways the list seems endless.

In order to make such a list more manageable, I’ve been thinking for several years that the major categories (there could be more…) of disconnects involve:

  • disconnects to one’s self (psychological and spiritual)
  • disconnects to others, including family, friends, communities, cultures, etc.
  • disconnects to our physical worlds – worlds of work, worlds of play, etc.
  • disconnects to the natural environment
  • disconnects to our mental world, the world of ideas and imagination

The Free Online Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/disconnect) defines “disconnect” as: “

  • to sever or interrupt the connection of or between;
  • a lack of connection or a disparity;
  • an unbridgeable disparity (as from a failure of understanding);
  • pull the plug… and render inoperable.”

So, when we consider disconnects in our lives, we need to consider, on the one hand, the idea of connection and, on the other hand, how we may be severed or how there may be a disparity within ourselves or between self and other (whatever that “other” may be).

People often look at me cross-eyed when I suggest that people may be disconnected with themselves. We are who we are. How can we be disconnected? However, the disconnections can be numerous. Many of us struggle with disconnections between mind and body, as well as I and other(s). We may feel a sense of awkwardness or self-consciousness as we walk in a public place. We may try to ignore and cover up a particular emotional state, or conversely, we over-indulge in the emotion and ignore everything else. Whatever is happening, there just seems to be an edge of awkwardness or discomfort. Much of this confusion has been handed down to us from Plato and especially Descartes, whose tremendous influence on western societies is known as Cartesian duality (Russell, 1945). Descartes made it official that there were two worlds: one, the physical world; two, the mental world. Although Buddhists consider this duality as basic to the human ego (which interferes with living to our full potential), ever since the 17th Century, the Cartesian duality gave western societies an official “Big Disconnect.” So, rather than dualism as a problem, dualism became the official and correct way to perceive and interact with the world.


Disconnects pervade our individual lives, our schools, science and its effects on our lives, and society as a whole. All of these issues appear to share universal origins in the patterns of how we layer ourselves and our social structures and of how such layers create other patterns of relations and actions.

The topic of “layers and layering” is worthy of a lengthy and detailed treatment. However, a brief overview may be useful. Layers function to help provide stability in physical, biological, social, and psychological structures. Some layers are mostly physical in nature, like those of buildings and the earth, while others are more functional, such as those of biological organ systems, organizational structures, and so forth (Bloom & Volk, 2007; Volk, 1995; Volk & Bloom, 2007). However, the importance of layers in terms of our discussion of disconnects and connects has to do more with how they define relationships in social contexts and how we develop and use psychological layers as protective barriers. Most of the social layering we experience are hierarchical in nature. Hierarchies are characterized by top-down control. People in the top layers control those below them. However, there are other ways of layering social systems. Those may be referred to as holarchies or embedded layers. In social systems, holarchies do not have the same types of relationships as hierarchies. In fact, you usually see the relationships in hierarchies before you can see the layers. In contrast, you can often see the layers in holarchies before you can understand the relationships between them. An example of a holarchic community can be thought of as an apprenticeship community. The mentor is in the center as the full participant and the apprentices are at varying degrees (layers) of participation as they work toward being in the center (see Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). The center of a holarchy is more one of shared power, rather than the top-down power of hierarchies.

Gregory Bateson described three types of relationships, which may be useful to consider in terms of social connects and disconnects. He referred to “symmetrical” relationships as competitive relationships, where individuals are vying for control. These types of relationships tend to disconnect. The second type of relationship is “complementary” or dominant-submissive. These relationships also tend to disconnect. The third type of relationship is “reciprocal” or one where the parties in a relationship continually negotiate issues in the relationship. These types of negotiable relationships are the only ones that tend to connect over the long term (Bateson, 1972). The interesting questions about relationships and layers revolve around what sorts of relationships arise from different layered social situations. Or, what kinds of relationships are encouraged and supported by different types of layering?

These patterns of layers and relationships can contribute to the great “disconnects” within individuals, between one another, between ourselves and our mental, social, political, physical, and biological worlds. In filling up our worlds with entertainment, internal dialogues, and defenses against entry from the outside world, we begin to lose touch with who we are. Our identities become embedded in notions of work, religion, and whatever our minds discursively generate. The answer to “who am I?” tends to be based upon what we do and upon our superficial characteristics. But, who are we really? In many tribal cultures, identity is based upon one’s place among families, clans, and relationships to others (Maybury-Lewis, D., 1992).

In future posts, I will explore the various kinds of disconnects outlined above and how we might move toward connecting.



  • Bateson, G. (1972/2000). Steps to an ecology of mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Maybury-Lewis, D. (1992). Millennium: Tribal wisdom in the modern world. New York: Viking.
  • Russell, B. (1945). A history of western philosophy: And its connection with political and social circumstances from the earliest times to the present day. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Volk, T. (1995). Metapatterns: Across space, time, and mind. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

(originally published: THURSDAY, JUNE 26, 2008)


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