Are We Alone Together?
Has digital communication changed our human relationships, and if so, how?
I recently read a book with the provocative title, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From our Technology and Less From Each Other. The author, a woman named Sherry Turkle, is concerned with the way our technology has the potential to undermine deep person-to-person relationships.
Here’s the argument in a nutshell: If you build a romantic relationship entirely around texts that say, “I luv U!” or a friendship on back-and-forth Instagram pictures – “this is me eating a cheeseburger” …. “this is me wiping ketchup off my shirt” – how deep of a relationship can you have?
Of course, that over-generalization doesn’t describe the vast majority of us. We use digital communication technologies, whether Skype or Facebook or group texting or Google chatting, to keep up with friends who are physically distant or to supplement our face-to-face interactions.
But I think it’s still worth asking the question: Has digital communication changed our human relationships, and if so, how?
For example: I have two lengthy emails in my inbox right now. One is from a family member overseas, the other from a friend who just moved 2,000 miles away. Because the emails are long and thoughtful I want to give an equally thoughtful response – but because I’m self-trained to chug through my inbox as fast as possible, I feel pressure to write a quick, shallow response so the emails don’t sit unattended for a week or more. Is that impulse pushing me towards snappier but shallower relationships with these two friends?
Or take my cell phone. I often instinctively carry it from room to room as I move around my house because it feels weird to be without it. Once (this was a really bad decision), because I had the phone with me, I took a call five minutes before my wife served an Asian dish she’d made especially for date night.
Yeah, I was that guy. (Like I said, it wasn’t one of my brightest or most godly moves.) But if I leave my phone in another room, I sometimes “hear” phantom text messaging beeps and wonder whose text I’m missing. Are my cell phone “attachment issues” making me present in body only with the people I love?
I ask these questions to start a discussion: Have you noticed a change in the way you conduct your relationships because of digital communication?
As Christians we of all people have a deep interest in the subject of relationships. As members of the family of God, our friendships and family ties have redemptive significance. God shapes human lives through other human lives.
Of course, as Christians we also see technology as a gift from God. In our day the gospel is reaching to the farthest corners of the globe through the Internet in ways that would have amazed and astounded previous Christian generations. And, to use just one example, Skype makes it possible for my wife and I to remain connected to family members overseas in a way unimaginable fifty years ago.
We should thank God for such developments. But at the same time we should embrace them thoughtfully so that technology enhances, not detracts from, our human relationships.