I've built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
("I Am A Rock" Simon & Garfunkel"
Recently I was part of a group that discussed a disturbing reality of our culture these days, we are a people that are "Alone, Together." This theme comes from a book by an MIT professor named Sherry Turkle; she reports that there are some troubling effects the new technologies may be having on our kids. As we discussed these effects, I wondered to myself, "Is it not troubling that people may seem more social, but are emotionally more alone as they...
- live in their screens most of the day?"
- can cut off relationships with the touch of a button?"
- see themselves more as the image they display than the thoughts they have?"
Should we be worried, or is this just another obstacle to learn to navigate around? I can remember my parents bemoaning "Atari" video games, and my grand parents wondering what color television would mean for the family as they eat tv diners around the "boob tube." I once read an article concerning the fear of a new invention called an "escalator" being used in department stores. Doctors at the time were worried that it may cause people to pass-out once they got to the top because the human body may not be able to handle the rise in atmospheric speed. So some stores had people waiting at the top with chairs and glass of water for people to regain their strength.
Maybe the new technology does present more opportunities to develop anti-social behavior patterns than previous generations; but humans have always had to learn how to engage others (see the 1960's Simon & Garfunkel song this blog opened with). And think about it, the choices for how to spend your time are really not that different. Here are some thoughts to think about to help navigate through this current storm:
* Remember, technology is amoral: it isn't wrong in and of itself, the problem is always our "self-control." As with everything, if you can't live without it, it may be an idol. iPhone, iPad, video games, tv, sports, books, fishing, and even back in the old days reading too many books was not healthy. (Jonathan Edwards spent 13 hours a day studying while his wife raised their 11 children virtually alone. Sounds godly, but maybe a hair self-obsessive?)
* Our children need to learn to be alone without being entertained! If they don't, they will never learn the great benefits of being lonely. Boredom is the current age's new fear. "Oh no dad, I have nothing to do?" Poor kids, it makes me want to cry. I once heard a man say that we no longer know how to think deeply or enjoy the benefits of a "good sadness " like previous generations did because noise and distractions are everywhere. Like a fine wine, fermentation of thought takes quiet aging.
* Don't take yourself so serious! I know this seems rather out of place, but pride causes us to think we are more important than we are. And social media with the amazing "photo-tools", "Facebook updates," and seeing all the number of likes I got; makes us think we "really" are important celebrities. When the truth is we are living lies in the world of our dreams! Shouldn't we be learning about people sitting right next to us. "Oh you are so pretty on your post, so handsome, so funny." But is that who you really are? I remember one time I went to a party talking in an English accent the whole time telling people I was a drummer from Liverpool, England because I heard girls loved English accents. Sounds stupid, I know, but at the time I really thought I was cool. There are a lot of Liverpool, England people all over social media these days; and it is kind of silly.
I will never forget the time I was leading a youth group meeting at my church and we had over 60 students sitting jammed pack in a room discussing current issues. Right before that meeting a sad, lonely kid told me how they were thinking of leaving the youth group because they didn't belong, they felt like an outsider. It got me thinking, "I wonder how many other kids feel like an outsider?" So during our meeting I asked the kids to raise their hands if they felt like an outsider. The result was fascinating" "Over 90% of the kids had their hands raised...even the cool kids!" God said because we are living in this broken world, we are alienated "in our minds" from God and others. We need to learn that Christ first loves us, and then we will be able to reach out to others.
To fix society's problems, we don't solve things by always taking things away from our kids, instead we need to give them something: Love, the love of Christ through our words, actions and time. So maybe, mom and dad, the problem will only be fixed if you first "turn your electronics off!"