Living in the 21st century means many things to different people. One aspect shared by many is learning how to navigate the digital world. What may this entail? How do people find connections in a world infused with social media, remote work, and online dating? It is this question that many mental health professionals have encountered with clients and will continue to encounter as our world deepens in its digital ties.
Often being connected in the contemporary world requires sharing oneself, raw and unedited, with family and friends. One study has shown a unidirectional model of impact that the digital world has on humanity. This means that one’s communities and self, physical and virtual, are altered in accordance with the structures of the technologies we employ. Although this makes sense, the view has been challenged by an alternative view that posits that the power of technology lies in the human side of the equation, i.e., the meanings we create and in the ways we both welcome and resist technology’s presence in our culture, our physical and social surroundings, and our personal lives (Ching & Foley, 2012). Thus, it is up to the individual to decide whether this access to seemingly unlimited information is helping one learn and solve complex problems or if it, ultimately, creates more difficulty and confusion for society by overloading it with content. Content overload is not always meaningful (Academies Keck, 2013). Often, we encounter clients who come to the same belief.
Frankl spoke about such difficulties being an important aspect of the human experience. He viewed humanity’s triumph over struggle to be the ultimate realization of life. That triumph leads individuals to finding meaning. Mental health professionals will hear from clients that either they find social media to be helpful in their social lives or to be a detriment. Which begs the question: how would Frankl view the difficulty of finding connection and meaning in the digital world? He believed that suffering is an inevitable part of life, but that finding meaning in suffering is essential (What Can We Learn from Viktor Frankl Today?, 2021). Meaning does not dispel difficulty. Frankl identified how many individuals tend to turn to hatred and hedonism when they lack meaning in their life. Hatred and hedonism can be found in the modern digital world. Without meaning, people will find themselves struggling with depression, criminal behavior, and addiction. This may be the existential vacuum that Frankl often warned of in his writings. Without a sense of meaning, one tends to find meaninglessness to be a hole, an emptiness in our lives (Boeree, 2019).
When one lacks meaning in today’s world, Frankl advocated tapping into our experiential values, creative values, and attitudinal values. The first occurs when one experiences something, or someone, that they value. The second is when one discovers meaning by “doing a deed.” This may often be seen in artistic outlets. Attitudinal values entail learning to adopt and embrace virtues such as compassion, bravery, a sense of humor, etc. However, the most famous of all his approaches would be to achieve meaning through suffering (Boeree, 2019). The way to achieve that meaning through suffering differs with each person but starts with every person taking a chance to use difficult circumstances to grow. When applied to the digital world, this means expanding areas in which the individual may experience immense growth while limiting the areas that would be counterproductive.
Living in the 21st century has not been made any easier with the introduction of the digital world. People encounter new problems each day, which continue to compound in addition to the daily stresses of life. With logotherapy and Frankl’s beliefs, mental health professionals may best equip their clients to face the challenges of the day by rediscovering meaning in a world that appears meaningless.
Academies Keck. (2013). The informed brain in a digital world. National Academies Press.
Boeree, G. (2019). Viktor Frankl. Ship.edu; Shippensburg University. https://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/frankl.html
Ching, C. C., & Foley, B. J. (2012). Constructing the self in a digital world. Cambridge University Press.
What can we learn from Viktor Frankl today? (2021, September 15). The Beautiful Truth. https://thebeautifultruth.org/life/the-basics-viktor-frankl/