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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

How our divisions eclipsed the Summer of Love

The 1967 anti-materialism movement was a last-ditch attempt to fight loneliness and separation. Technology, however, has made us more disconnected than ever

Hippies gathered in San Francisco during the summer of 1967 to express their disillusionment with the world order at the time. AP
Hippies gathered in San Francisco during the summer of 1967 to express their disillusionment with the world order at the time. AP

Summer 2017 was the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967 where a counter-cultural revolution gathered momentum and thousands of people converged on San Francisco to express their disillusionment with materialism and conflict. Some of these bohemian free-spirits even wore flowers in their hair. Ultimately, though, elements of the movement descended into a drug-fuelled carnival of chaos.

Beyond the dark side, however, at the heart of this movement was an earnest disavowal of excessive materialism and an impassioned call for universal peace and love.

The world’s best-selling album that year was by The Beatles, a work titled Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A key theme of this critically acclaimed album was alienation and our growing loss of connection to one and other, hence, the Lonely Hearts Club. Perhaps the Summer of Love was, in part, a last-ditch attempt to stave off this creeping sense of loneliness and separation.

The Summer of Love, specifically June 25, also saw the world’s first global satellite TV broadcast. This event ushered in the era of the "global village", a term coined by Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian professor, philosopher and public intellectual. This first global broadcast was a show called Our World, and it was simultaneously broadcast live to 26 countries and watched by 400 million people. For the occasion, the BBC commissioned none other than The Beatles to write a song for the show. The group wrote and performed All You Need Is Love.

The Summer of Love faded and its worthy goals of universal peace and love withered on the vine. The technological revolution, however, went from strength to strength. In our present time, information technology has undoubtedly connected the world, but at the same time, there is a growing sense that it has also weakened our essential human interconnectivity. The disconnected family – mum, dad and kids, all gazing at screens, rather than into each other's eyes – is an increasingly common sight. Has technology had a detrimental impact on our ability to love – to form and express enduring, compassionate connections with one and other?

In an essay exploring the effect of technology on the human psyche, Carl Jung, Swiss psychoanalyst and founder of psychoanalytical psychology, expressed concerns that technology could lead to a general dissatisfaction with life. Jung also suggested that it could result in us disconnecting from nature and many of our natural instincts. He writes, "It estranges man from his natural versatility of action and thus allows many of his instincts to lie fallow." Perhaps love, the drive for compassionate connection, is one of those instincts that has been allowed to lie fallow; to wither and atrophy.

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We can send a text message to everyone we know in a few short seconds, but can we hold a decent face-to-face conversation with a relative stranger? OK, so you’re the king or queen of Instagram, but how well do you empathise with your little sister’s sorrow? We can download and binge-watch a season of series X, but how many of us can spontaneously engage a small audience with stories of our own?

In his essay on technology, Jung goes on to argue that “technology is neither good nor bad, neither harmful nor harmless. Whether it be used for good or ill depends entirely on man’s own attitude, which in turn depends on technology.” How is technology shaping our attitudes; is it making us kinder, wiser and more compassionate towards one and other? #HellNo

This summer will hardly be remembered as the Summer of Love 2.0. We saw many old divisions and hatreds retake the spotlight, Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and the threat of a nuclear holocaust all reared their hideous heads. Fifty years on from the Summer of Love, 2017’s best-selling album is Ed Sheeran’s poignantly titled Divided.

I think the UAE should host a Winter of Love, where we can sit, connect, tell stories and share experiences. You can wear flowers in your hair if you must, but please leave your phone at home. Log out, turn off, drop in.

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