The Big Disconnect

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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2 thoughts on “The Big Disconnect

  1. I’ve heard this before. I have to say, I don’t feel it in my own life. Maybe I am blind to it. I have always been someone who was nervous to leave my shell. I’ve always had a few good friends and not too many others (with the slight exception of a few good years in high school). I have felt lonely for most of my life.

    Since having a baby and starting a blog, I haven’t felt lonely. I have really formed a great and growing network through Twitter, my blog, and to a lesser extent, Facebook. That’s not to say I am missing out on face-to-face relationships. I find myself blessed by my church and the women and friendships that I have there. We get together weekly for bible study and biweekly for a play get-together with the kids.

    But beyond that, relationships with some local moms whom I have met a few times have grown because of our relationships online. So much so that it has moved beyond the confines of the internet into real life. Knowing these women online has allowed us to feel like we know each other when we get together and gives us a starting point for those face-to-face conversations. Without the internet, they would still be acquaintances and not friends.

    The Internet has made me feel so much less isolated. (Truth: What makes me feel isolated is going to work… which I have to do again in a few weeks. I don’t get as much internet time, I am unable to go to my bible study, and I miss out on the playdates. I get along with my coworkers but certainly don’t have meaningful friendships with them.)

    I do think that I have to make sure I am not depriving my family of time because I am spending it online – but sometimes I look at is as a job, and that helps me prioritize time a little better.

    • Insightful, as always, Laura. And I agree with everything you’re saying. It’s definitely a balancing act. I love technology. Use it every day for work AND pleasure. I think in it’s place, it is wonderful. I know of a couple who ended up being able to adopt someone solely because of a blog (obviously the Lord’s orchestration). It doesn’t always isolate either – my parents are in Liberia and I’m only able to communicate with them because of things like Skype and e-mail. Sometimes though, at the root of it all, the internet and social media (and admittedly a host of other things completely removed from technology) can rob us of “real” connections.
      On another note (but still related), I think for many people (especially, Moms?) we feel guilt and anxiety about not measuring up to what we see on the internet. In person it’s easier to recognize that other people don’t have it all “together.” The Cheerios in the hair and the messy playroom. I think the internet paints a distorted picture of reality – in some cases at least. It’s easy to crop out the laundry piles on the floor, and instagram the fun tea party instead. It also removes us from confrontation. No one reads my blog, so I don’t have to deal with it thankfully, but hurtful comments seem to be on the rise. Things that would never be said in person are said in comment boxes or tweeted…but the recipient, unable to defend themselves, still feels very personally attacked.
      Argh. Too tired to articulate it all right now, and I’m touching on things removed from the original subject. I certainly don’t want to come across like I think everyone should/does feel this way. I shan’t revoke my love of Mommy blogs, and I just got some fantastic toddler ideas from Pinterest that I’m dying to try. I’m not looking to go back to horse and buggy and candlelight. Just muddling through some thoughts and pondering some observations…

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