Others have articulated this topic far more eloquently, but I just can’t seem to shake my own reflections on this theme. Most recently it was spurred by reading The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness. It chronicles (sometimes in painstaking detail) the progression of technology over the last few centuries. At the center of it all – woven through a fascinating, though somewhat irrelevant, history of vending machines, closed-top cars, radios, and robots – was the author’s thesis: the undeniable and recurring theme of technology and isolation. How tools, once designed to bring family and community together, eventually morphed into wholly solitary pursuits, leaving loneliness in the wake. His and hers radio sets, the proliferation of screen and cameras and lights and now, more broadly, the explosion and excess of “personal” devices. The latter it seems is seamlessly equated with our very identity these days. Our phones and tablets and razor-thin keyboards – the ultimate image of connectivity and, in many senses, a tiny replicate of our lives and desires. Each device so unique and personal that any affront to those shards of metal and glass and plastic end up feeling like a personal attack. We stand guard with Otterboxes and we LifeProof. These tiny devices, that fit so neatly in the palm of our hand, change what we do, how we do it, and who we are.
The result is sobering, if not ironic – in the face of social media and networking and an ever shrinking world, we feel more isolated and lonely than ever. Our sense of community, friendship, and personal connection continues to decline. We’ve “sacrificed conversation for mere connection.” I think it’s not too bold to assert that we now find it increasingly difficult to converse (in the “old-fashioned” sense of the word, perish the thought) unless the exchange (as so many are) is mitigated by a neutral technological middle-ground, some form of LCD liaison.
Technology is everywhere – even places once seemingly impenetrable. Take the printed page – as in authentic ink-on-wood. Sinking into the sofa – looking for a brief reprieve from the daily technology inundation – to read the latest edition of a monthly magazine subscription, I was immediately bombarded with details about a new, interactive feature scattered throughout. It, of course, required a special app and smartphone – requisites of any magazine reader these days I suppose. I didn’t pursue the option, but no doubt the reader would have been enticed to tweet or like or pin or insta- or, perhaps even *vine* about the experience.
Then last week, after a particularly stormy night, I walked (sans ear buds) behind someone maneuvering down a treacherously icy sidewalk. She fell – hard – on her backside, but never missed a beat, continuing to text/tweet(?) the entire time. An admirable skill for a curriculum vitae, I suppose, though not sure under what category it would fall. Unrivaled determination, dedication to the work at hand, proficient at multi-tasking?
A few times I’ve seemingly reached a breaking point – occasions when the constant barrage of information starts to suffocate. My response has been a short reprieve from screens and keyboard. Unplugging. There are longer-term complications though; the fact that for my family unit, our work necessitates we each spend hours every day on a computer. The roof over our heads, the very food on our table – a result of our love affair with technology. But really, more superfluously and honestly – I’m addicted. And I see two main, and sad results. One, I feel the need to fill every spare moment with “something” – I’m indiscriminate and the easiest filler is technology. No matter how often I fall back into this pattern – these hours spent browsing, surfing and pinning are always exhausting and solitary and unfulfilling. Yet, each day, I return anxious for my first fix. The reassuring ding as my inbox registers the new crop of e-mails, or a satisfying glimpse at those gorgeous homemade lampshades which I delude myself into believing I could totally make myself. Secondly, my concentration span is waning. My familiarity with rapid-gain information has made me impatient, perhaps flipped some imaginary attention deficit switch. I’m used to clicking, changing, moving…constantly. We joke how Abby will never understand the frustrations of dial-up internet, yet maybe she’d be better off. Those agonizing delays from the past might serve us well in the future. Patience and realism (we can, and do, re-brand ourselves every day on the internet) and human connection – they’ll soon be skills taught and counseled by apps instead of experience.
I suppose, on some level, I might look to have escaped the worst of it (or missed the best of it, depending on your perspective). I no longer use Facebook, have never created a Twitter account, have yet to activate my LinkedIn profile. I browse Pinterest around every major holiday for inspiration (and overburdening guilt at my lack of crafting expertise). And Vine-ing. Seriously? Yet still, I feel overwhelmed by it all.
I’m not alone it seems – from books and articles and blog posts this topic is receiving lots of attention. Proving it’s undying relevance to every age, even my Scripture readings have driven home the message. How true the words of Ecclesiastes ring when I read: “Meaningless! Meaningless!”…“Utterly meaningless!” Simply, in most cases at least, I think this addiction can be easily deconstructed. It is just another (vain) attempt to fill the “gap(s)” in our lives. The hole, the purpose, the meaning that only exists in Christ. But what of the Christians filling? What a heart knows, a heart loves. How sad that I know more about my favourite DIY bloggers than members of my church family. Rest assured, I cast no stones in this discussion – I pin and blog and watch and swipe and scan. We all try to fill and fill and fill but cannot shake that nagging emptiness. So we try harder, racking up so many distractions it leaves us dizzy…
There are so many ideas and thoughts swirling round my brain – maybe I’ll revisit a few rabbit trails another time. But for now, at least, this is just an open discussion with myself . I have no “good” place to leave this. So I’ll use a few quotes, the first from another recent read (All Natural) “Faith in technological progress tends to trade away beauty, and wonder, and joy, and all of those…unquantifiable things.” (Nathanael Johnson, emphasis mine). But I suppose they are quantifiable…”the things which are seen are temporal, but the thing which are not seen are eternal” 2 Corinthians 4:18b. And the beauty and the wonder and the joy – the eternal – they all point to One.