We’re lonely because we’d rather be looking at a screen than at each other.
This post originally appeared as part of Friendship Week in August 2017. If Jesus calls us his friends, then deep relationships are at the heart (pun intended) of a gospel-focused life.
Americans spend almost as much time on digital devices as they do sleeping. Living in a constant state of distraction is reshaping our relationships—with our spouse, with “one another” in the church, with our kids, with our neighbors, with our significant others. That’s sort of a given at this point. So let’s go one step further: Our habitual, relentless use of internet-fueled devices is also reshaping the very idea of relationships. What are they for? How do they work? What defines a “healthy” relationship? Is physical proximity necessary or optional? Do we even need relationships anymore?
Jesus came in the flesh. The Christian faith is an embodied one. A lonely and increasingly disconnected world is longing for incarnational relationships. The church would do well to think deeply about the relational implications of our digitally driven reality. The following articles are a good starting point for wrestling with the social, emotional, relational and spiritual consequences of our internet-enabled habits.
Synopsis: Attitudes and behaviors of today’s teenagers are being radically altered by unencumbered smartphone use. The changes are not good.
Representative quote: Twenge, quoting one of her interviewees, a 13-year-old girl: “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Why you should read it: Technology has always been a “glittering lure,” and virtues such as self-discipline are always needed to guard against the empty promises of the newest gadgets. That said, sociologists 30 years ago weren’t worried about “losing an entire generation” to answering machines or Atari. Be ready to pick your jaw off the floor repeatedly.
Synopsis: Tony Fadell, the guy who helped create the iPod and iPad, has a Charlton Heston moment on the metaphysical beach of late-modern capitalism.
Representative quote: Schwab, quoting Fadell: “A lot of the designers and coders who were in their 20s when we were creating these things didn’t have kids. Now they have kids. And they see what’s going on, and they say, ‘Wait a second.’ And they start to rethink their design decisions.”
Why you should read it: It’s jarring to hear pioneers of our easy-everywhere technology question their methodology because they didn’t have kids when they designed these creations. If Fadell is right that this is the slowest our internet-fueled technology will move and progress, what are we going to do to keep this technology in its proper place within our homes?
Synopsis: The internet is terrible and it killed romance.
Representative quote: There are lots of sad-funny lines here (and also some colorful language, just a heads up), but this section gives you a good feel for it: “Entire relationships now take place without the use of the human voice. Texting, the least-warm communications method short of a fire engine’s siren is how we connect to and interact with other human beings. Major decisions, life changes are determined via text. Moving in together, merging bank accounts, divorce, these things can legitimately be decided upon with nothing more than our thumbs . . . It’s also just an illogical way to build up an affinity for someone. I don’t think it’s bragging if I say I can write a decent sentence suitable for texting. I’m not bad at that particular activity. But I don’t think it’s possible to fall in love with me (or even just fall in like with me), through texting alone. But it’s all I’ve got.”
Why you should read it: If you’re married, you’ll learn how to empathize with today’s singles. If you’re not married, you’ll find solidarity and vocabulary to help you process your longings and frustrations. If you’re a human, you’ll maybe start to wonder if the internet has been worth it. In other words, go for a walk or read a book or get coffee with a friend instead of reading these articles, for goodness’ sake.