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Beware of “Learned Incapacity”

In “Let’s Not Get Too Good at Living Virtually”, a recent blog post at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner raises some very real concerns about moving all our social interactions online. Everything from our conferences, classrooms, movie nights, meetings, crafting circles, and even children’s birthday parties have shifted to online platforms. Beyond the learning curve, there is an undeniable convenience and a reduction of cost (air travel, hotels, event costs, time, etc.) that we will experience. 

And while this is true, there is also a tremendous cost to our new social existence: real, human-to-human interaction.

As Kuttner writes:

Our ability to connect online is convenient, but even before the virus epidemic it was already a plague. Kids were already far too obsessed with social media and video games. Tinder was already crowding out courtship. Online organizing was displacing face-to-face political engagement.

As social beings, we need live contacts. Psychologists have a useful term—“learned incapacity.” The younger you go down the age spectrum, the more people have a learned incapacity for real socialization.

Kristen Radtke’s illustrated op-ed “What Do We Lose When We Stop Touching Each Other?” in the New York Times also addresses the importance of the physical.


Our Learned Incapacity for real social interaction is a detrimental cost to the coronavirus pandemic that we all must be very aware of.

And yet, perhaps there’s something to the adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We regularly squander the time we have together, not valuing – or not seeing – those people around us who are the most important, our most loved.  While being aware of not falling into the complacency of exclusive online contact, we have an opportunity to deeply consider the value of our interactions and to shape how we want to experience that time together once this public health crisis is over.   

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