Yesterday, I came across this short video that really strikes a chord with me:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of technology, and I’m just as connected as the next person. I have a smartphone and a tablet, and I make fairly heavy use of social media and the internet in general.
However, call me old-fashioned, but I also believe in the value of, and the need for, face-to-face engagement. Real relationship and communication require us to be 100% present to the person or people we are with, at least some of the time. Trying to have a conversation with someone who has one eye on their smartphone is an exercise in frustration, because they are not fully present. Their body is in the room but at least half of their mind is elsewhere. The message being sent to us is that any text, tweet or update they may receive is guaranteed to be more important, more interesting and more worthy of their attention than we are.
Conversely, giving someone our full focus is a powerful gift that costs us little, be they a close family member who needs some emotional intimacy or a total stranger whose day could be lifted out of the doldrums by a few moments of our undivided attention.
There’s no doubt that technology can be a powerful tool in staying connected with others. We lived overseas for a few years, and the advent of social media was truly a godsend in helping us stay in touch with friends and family. In fact, I believe this strong need for connection is one of the reasons why social media and mobile technology have become so hugely popular in such a relatively short time.
Yet, in our constant quest for connection and our desire not to miss the latest chat, conversation or Twitter mention, we are in danger of missing out on the very connection we need most: real, 100%, distraction-free face time with other people. This kind of time is soul food, and it’s the only way real relationships are built and sustained. The God in whose image we are made is a God of intimate relationship; that notion lies at the heart of the concept of trinity, and it is imprinted into our spiritual DNA. And, when crisis hits, the people we most need to help, support and encourage us are those who have got up close and personal with us, not those who have merely interacted with us at one remove through electronic gadgets and social media networks.
When we consistently substitute pithy, 140-character soundbites for genuine, in-depth conversation and engagement, I believe we are ultimately in danger of deepening our sense of isolation and cutting ourselves off from the genuine heart-level connection our souls crave. And some may call me a prophet of doom for saying this, but I think we have barely begun to realise the harm that widespread social media dependency may be doing to our young people’s ability to form and nurture strong and lasting relationships.
So my plea is this: use mobile technology and social media by all means, and may your life be enriched by it. But don’t become its servant — strive instead to cultivate relationships and interactions where you and those with you are fully present in the moment. It will do you and the people you spend time with the world of good.