Connections & Affections (Part 1)

A photo by Jordan McQueen.

You will not be shocked when I tell you, because you have already heard, and you know yourself. Yes, this post will reveal a truth that has been widely recognized and accepted for quite some time, with countless blogs and TEDTalks and magazines informing us of the continued same old song and dance when it comes to technology: Technology has a psychological and physiological power that is stronger than we anticipated.  It is, quite literally, changing us. What we do, how we do it, even why we do it. But perhaps the most significant component is the Who it affects.

Again, this is not catching you off-guard. Me presenting the notion that maybe your smartphone or device is affecting your personal relationships is not groundbreaking. The very thing that markets itself as an improvement on the world of communication is actually the greatest hindrance to our ability to communicate.

I know you know this already. But take some time to watch this video from Sherry Turkle. I could spend a great deal of time stating and defending my case, but I could not do so with such clarity as Turkle does so. She has spent decades researching mobile technologies and emphasizes how these technologies are affecting our personal relationships. The full video is worth a view.

Some of you didn’t watch it, because it’s almost twenty minutes, and you don’t have that kind of time (a.k.a. you need to check Facebook for the thirteenth time to see what notifications you have). Bookmark it and come back later, it’s worth it.

For now, I’ll give you a brief review. Turkle’s point is that technology is trending towards becoming our preference for relationship. We laugh at the sci-fi movies that posit a dystopian world taken over by robots, yet when it comes to communication, we depend on and are more infatuated with the digital than the human. We hold in tension the desire for our technology to “be there for us,” yet struggle to understand how to be there, in real time, for another. We complain that Siri is not enough of a companion, and seem okay with being spread thin with human companionship.

The featured image here is a fantastic example of what we’ve done. You come to a sunset on the water. It’s breathtaking. But you choose to view it, enjoy it, and embrace it through the pixelated screen instead of simply enjoying the sunset. Perhaps you’ve experienced this vicious cycle recently:

  • We do not see the sunset for what it is.
  • We view the sunset through our smartphone.
  • We take the picture and post it on social media.
  • We tell others “the picture doesn’t do it justice.” And then we realize.

None of us would admit that it is okay with us. In fact, we lament our lack of real-life experience and beauty. Yet, we do nothing about it. This trickles easily over into our lanes of community. And because of that, we are resolving to let our gauge of friends remain in the digital realms of social media. We like that text messaging and Facebook allows us to put forth our best self, instead of entering into the hard and uncomfortable place of authenticity. One of the five “I” words for Apple’s products is “individual,” and while they might have meant uniqueness and personalization, it seems the device meant to connect us ended up doing the opposite. We say we want genuine community, but we discover it is not as easy or satisfying as being “liked,” and there we stunt our growth.

Turkle captured the communication dilemma with one poignant sentence that has stuck me like a dart:

“We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

Turkle shared a picture of her daughter and friends, all three staring into their phones, “connected, but alone.” You’ve seen those pictures. You might even be in them. The crowd laughed when she showed it. Because it’s a ridiculous notion, that we could deceive ourselves into believing that community can exist when we’re all preoccupied with the glow of our devices and not physical interaction. Yet despite its absurdity, we continue. You might be reading this very blog post in the midst of another whom you’re “spending time with” as we speak.

This cultural phenomenon is not something we can shrug off, because this is a road that leads to extreme isolation and becoming unknown. It is killing us. I appreciate Turkle’s efforts to shed light on this important subject. And yet, there is a layer to this discussion that all of her research doesn’t hit: a theological one. Sure, there’s room for practical steps forward and scientific reasonings. But if our hearts, our theology itself, doesn’t change, neither will we.

So, how do we make strides forward in this arena? It may not be as simple as we think. We are deeply immersed in this problem; everything from theology to practice needs to be refined for us to become more people-centered. If we are going to pursue healthy, authentic, gospel-centered relationships, we first need to clean up our theology. We also need to implement some matters of subtraction (getting the bad habits out) and some matters of addition (getting the good habits in). Some of us need to emphasize one area over the other, but most of us need help with both. Next week, we talk about a theology of relationship.


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