Maybe you’ve received the recent email showing folks “getting together” at a coffee shop, a cafe and restaurant, enjoying the beauty of a museum or a day at the beach, taking in a ball game, having a date with a girlfriend, taking a drive in a convertible. In each case everyone in their “get togethers” is busy texting (including the driver of the convertible!), totally ignoring the people they are with. The email ends with this revealing, prophetic quote from Albert Einstein: “I fear the day when technology overlaps with humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”
But just think of all the ways technology has enabled us to stay in touch: email, video chat sites, Facebook, Twitter, texting. The number of ways we have available today for communicating is staggering. (And oh yes, we do still have the telephone and can actually still mail letters through “snail mail.” When is the last time you wrote someone a letter?) We are living in an amazing time where we can instantly communicate with others, be they family, friends, missionaries, politicians or preachers. We can share intimate details about our lives, argue about politics, talk about our favorite sports team, voice our opinion on theological matters, strike up a “relationship” with someone and “fall in love”–all without ever even meeting each other face-to-face.
And now, thanks to a team of researchers at MIT, we can even give physical affection remotely. They have created an inflatable vest that links you to your Facebook account and “hugs” you every time someone “likes” something you’ve posted–a perfect example of how the rise of social media has changed the concept of “relationships.” Today we have “virtual friendships” that fall woefully short of the real thing. Dr. Sherry Turkle, a specialist in technology and society, also at MIT, has spent years researching the ways technology changes people, and has written a book entitled Alone Together. She concludes that all this technology that is supposed to connect us, has made us even more lonely. We’re afraid of intimacy and so “from social networks we’re designing technologies that give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we are not so comfortable. We are not so in control.”
Andy Braner, president of Camp Kivu in Colorado and a thoughtful observer of the youth culture, said, in an interview on Breakpoint that “Loneliness is the ironic epidemic of this over-connected age and students are longing to be truly known and truly connected.” A person–young and old alike–may have literally hundreds of “Facebook ‘friends,’ but how many real friends do they have? How many people do they actually have with whom they spend “face-to-face” time, really getting to know one another and accepting one another as they are? Aristotle said, “Wishing to be friends is a quick work, but friendship is a slow-ripening fruit.” True friendship grows by spending time together, interacting together, going through tough times together. Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart. Doug Larson said, “A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your successes!” Wise king Solomon wrote–under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit–many things about friendship: “A man of many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Pr. 18:24); “Wealth adds many friends, but a poor man is separated from his friend…Every man is a friend to him who gives gifts” (Pr. 19:4,6b); “A friend loves at all times” (Pr. 17:17a).
Developing genuine friendships is like Aristotle said, “slow-ripening fruit,” then it takes time spent together, but if that time is spent texting others, no relationships are being developed. It is amazing to watch what goes on in a restaurant, or at a ball game, or at any place where people are getting together. Many of them are only there physically, as they are spending their time staying in touch with all their “friends.” No wonder, as John Stonestreet commented on Breakpoint and Dr. Sherry Turkle of MIT wrote, with all the fantastic means of technology today for staying connected, we seem to be “Alone Together.”
The Apostle Paul didn’t live in a day of the technology available to us, but he understood the importance of actually being with someone, of talking to them “face-to-face.” He wrote this to the believers at Thessalonica, “But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while–in person, not in spirit–were all the more eager with great desire to see your face…as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face and may complete what is lacking in your faith…” (I Thes. 2:17; 3:10). He knew there were some things he just couldn’t accomplish by letter. In John’s second epistle, he wrote to the recipient: “Having many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that your joy may be made full” (v. 12). Again, in his third epistle, written to a fellow believer, Gaius, John said: “But I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face…” (v.14).
And speaking of face-to-face encounters, the Apostle Paul wrote: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12). And the Apostle John’s comment was: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (I Jn. 3:2).
Technology is a great tool but it is no replacement for actual face-to-face time with others. It is easy to be so distracted by our gadgets of “communication” that we end up being “alone together.” How about spending some “deliberate time connecting with family and friends the old-fashioned way. You know–without the text lingo, the friend requests, and the inflatable vest!” (John Stonestreet in Breakpoint).