Mobile vs Embodied Connection

I recently led a workshop on connection as part of the Critical Incident in Brighton. We explored embodied connection through various touch and movement practices, and compared these connections through mobile devices and social media. The former is what I do for a living as part of business teambuilding or peace work (sample exercises here – like walking backwards and forwards in pairs with palms touching), and as a big fan an heavy user of Facebook, texts, e-mail and Twitter, I have become interested in the similarities and differences between the two ways in which we can “connect”.  I love the newer high-tech ways of connecting and have, like most people I know, also bumped into problems and conflicts through using them unskilfully. There is a growing current in the world of both dependence on them and dissatisfaction with what they cannot provide. This article makes it clear why this is the case.

Embodied Connection

Historically people have got to know one another and coordinated action face-to-face and when it really matters body to body and with touch and movement. Soldiers, for example, march and do war dances, courting couples dance in every culture and on a more mundane level most friends enjoying walking side-by-side. When we like people we touch them, touching people makes us like people and touch is essential for survival and psychological health – this is well established by psychology. Embodied connection relies upon bodily mirroring and “resonance” – our bodied unconsciously “match” or “tune” into each other in posture, heart and breathing rate, movement, etc). This is the main basis of empathy and a sense of really being connected to another. To take another example most of us are familiar with – the main purpose of sex isn’t reproduction in humans it’s this resonance, this is one reason why arranged marriages work – we don’t just sleep with people we like, we like people we sleep with. On a platonic level we see the movement and tactile play of children around the world and without this they get huge developmental difficulties. We live in a world however which has become increasingly less touch and movement orientated which can cause problems for relationships….

High-Tech Connection and its Problems

E-mail, mobile devices and social media have opened up a brave new world for us and let me state unequivocally that I love them lest anyone think I’d a luddite. I love how I can tweet out to thousands of people or text my friend in Brazil while on the bus. I have also found myself using such technology mindlessly and even compulsively, checking my FB while in the toilets, during a meal, looking at e-mail on a blackberry in bed and losing a lot of attention to who is actually in front of me on many occasions. As a trainer I have also found it increasingly difficult to get trainees to turn off their phones even for a few hours. I experience a sense of panic when going cold-turkey on retreat myself and normally turn my phone on within 1-2 minutes of any situation where it needs to be turned off ending, scared I’m missing out on something! I have also noted that I sometimes use such technology to avoid the emotional difficulty of a face-to-face conversation especially if an apology, conflict or other “tricky” issues is involved. I also sometime feel emotionally disconnected and dissatisfied despite a What brings huge connection possibilities has also become an enslaving attention diffusing emotionally-disassociating addiction in I would dare say MOST cases. Paul Levy who did a talk on technology earlier in the Critical Incident day and how mobiles have now become “prosthetic” (i.e. not just a tool we use but part of us) mentioned that in fairy tales this trickster tactic is called Benevolent Entanglement.  He suggested some practices for experiencing a mobile separateness, such as going out to it when it rings as a craftsman would on a tool bench, rather than bring in into yourself, typing with another finger to de-habituate and squeezing your handset to realise it is not you!

What is “Connection” Anyway? The Elements:

“Connection” is a word used in both new-age and new-media communities but what is it? The differences between mobile and embodied connection above highlight that the one word is used in some very different ways as one does not replace the other. I have found it is helpful to distinguish between variables involved in ”connection” as a way of clarifying these differences. By getting clear about this you can make an informed choice on how you might want to connect in different circumstances and with different people. Here are the variables:


Reach is how many people can a method allow you to connect with across how much distance? This variable produces ease and is one of the main reasons modern methods of communication have caught one. Using Facebook for example I can put a message out to 1000 people all over the world and I have chatted to my mum in the UK while on top of a mountain in Switzerland.

Speed of response

Another important factor is a method of connection one-way such as television (receiving) or letter writing or texting (sending with slow of controlled response), or is there enough responses-speed for a real-time conversation to happen (e.g. MSN, phones). One-way or slow response speed methods may feel emotionally safer to people as one can control one reactions and response easier than in a “heated” conversation. This may be one reason text messages are particularly popular in the UK where emotional intelligence and expression is somewhat low if I may be somewhat rude about my own country. With time lags insincerity and emotional suppression (for better and worse) becomes easier but rash words can be reconsidered on the positive side.

Modes of communication that involve more than two people such as a Facebook open discussion brings in a community elements which can both create wonderful group connection and feel tremendously unsafe for some.


The following methods generally produce resonance – the emotionally significant element in communication – in ascending order.  Factual text (e.g. most text messages and e-mails), metaphorical or imagery text, sound (e.g. phones), visual (movies, Skype), face-to-face meeting, face-to-face with touch. There are individual and cultural differences here of course but there is a reason films decimated radio plays, which reduced reading respectively. It is also worth noting that “verbal” communication covers a lot and can be dramatically improved by the likes of NVC.

Resonance requires vulnerability and honesty as we are being seen with less filtering and image management during the more resonant methods. This has become scary for many! Note too that while face-to-face can get heated quicker than time-delayed methods, lack of tone and body-language may produce conflict as we are such emotional creatures that we will fill-in tone from our own stories which are often based only very loosely on reality! E-mails and texts often create misunderstandings.

NB: I have previously discussed these variables as length (time and distance), width (number of people and depth (resonance and intimacy). This model leaves-put response speed but is a useful simplification for many.

Connection and Communication Tips

Much of this is intuitive – you don’t split-up with a partner by text message (hopefully) and some purely factual work FYI e-mails clearly don’t demand a face-to-face meetings. Here, however, are a few rule-of-thumb tips.

  • Check your intention with any communication and ask yourself, “what method would work best for this?” “What response speed would be most efficient and connecting?” and “Am I emotionally avoiding?”
  • If you want to build trust and intimacy go up the resonance scale.
  • If a conflict has been produced by tone or context confusion go up the resonance scale.
  • If it’s purely factual information you wish to convey and emotional connection isn’t an issue go for reach.
  • Establish good new-media hygiene. Examples from my own life includes no mobiles in bathroom bedroom or at the dinner-table.


You will find more tips on communications here.

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