Last week, I wrote about how our smartphones interrupt and distract us. They are supposed to be tools we use to do things that matter, but instead, we use them to avoid doing things that matter.
Today, I want to focus on our technology’s impact on our relationships. Years ago, Bell Telephone Company, and later AT&T, ran a series of advertisements under the theme “reach out and touch someone.” It’s a fascinating ad campaign. In it, AT&T advertises the precise thing that their customers want, but that AT&T cannot provide. Even today, let alone in the late 70’s and early 80’s, we do not have a technology that gives us the ability to touch our loved ones who are far away.
But this advertising campaign illustrates very well both the promise and peril of our information technology. The promise is that it does give us new ways to connect with one another over long distances. AT&T’s ad campaign may not be the whole truth, but there is some truth to it. Facebook, with all the pictures and videos and conversations, really does give us a wonderful glimpse into the lives of those we love. And when used with wisdom, our phones and our computers can be used to strengthen real relationships. Facebook can be used to love others, and to be loved.
But the peril is present, and very great. Facebook can also be used as a crutch to make us feel like we are participating in relationships when we are, in reality, doing nothing of the kind. It becomes a tool for our own selfishness, rather than a tool for love.
By using it to avoid more intimate and personal contact. We’d rather send a text than make a phone call – let alone talk in person. Rather than picking up our head and talking with the children or the husband who is sitting in the room with us, we scroll through Facebook or Instagram to see what other people are up to.
As I mentioned recently in the daily update with the other pastors, I think that the gold standard for relational intimacy is face-to-face conversation. But real intimacy, and therefore real conversation, is hard and requires love. It takes work to understand what someone else means with their words and their non-verbal cues. And speaking is hard, too. Making yourself understandable to someone else means that you have to get outside of your own head and in to theirs. You have to love them.
So is social media making us less loving? Are we less able and less willing to have meaningful conversation because of our technology? When people talk about social change and technology, there is always the “chicken or the egg” problem that attends the discussion. Did this new technology cause the change, and are we as a society just along for the ride? Or did the technology simply assist in a change for which we are ultimately responsible?
This is a very old debate. In my view, there is no question that our tools do shape us. When we use a shovel or a hammer all day every day, we grow callouses on our hands. But I think it’s foolish and short-sighted to blame our tools for our own choices. We must take responsibility for our tools and how we use them. To claim otherwise is to admit that we are simply pawns of the tool-makers – of Google and Facebook.
But we are not slaves. We are free in Christ, and that means that we are free to use our tools, or not use them, to His glory.
And so, no, Facebook and Instagram are not making us less able to engage in real conversation. Drugs and alcohol do not make a man selfish – though they certainly help him to wallow in his selfishness. We must face the fact that we are a cold-hearted and loveless people who are looking for any excuse to avoid confessing the sin of selfishness and turning away from it.
May God help us.