It’s January – the time of year when people reconsider the type of person they are, what they’ll do differently, and any ‘resolutions’ that they hope to see through the next 12 months. This was the topic of conversation recently between some friends of mine. And while there were those of us that scoffed at the idea of New Year resolutions (“What’s the point – we’ll only break them!”), an interesting theme emerged.
One friend said, “I spend so much time worrying about what might happen – with friends, work, geography. This year I want to be more intentionally present.”
Another told us how she had deactivated her Facebook account; “I’m fed up of the perfect image people present online. They look so together, and I’m just not. I know what I’m seeing isn’t real, it isn’t the full picture, but I can’t help comparing my life with this version of theirs. And it’s true that comparison is the thief of joy, so I’m done with Facebook, at least for now.”
It reminded me of Sherry Turkle’s ‘Connected but alone’ TED Talk from 2012. The premise of her talk is this: technology is exciting, innovative, and powerful, but we are beginning to let it take us places that we don’t want to go. These psychologically powerful devices are not only changing what we do, but they’re also changing who we are. We are becoming so accustomed to being constantly connected, that we crave this at all times. What do you do when you’re waiting in a queue, or arrive early to meet a friend, or get into bed but don’t feel that sleepy? If you’re anything like me, you take out your phone or tablet – you take a look at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat. You tell yourself you’ll browse for five minutes, and before you know it, 30 – or more – have passed.
Sherry Turkle talks of the phenomenon of our loneliness, but our fear of intimacy. And so instead of turning to real relationships, we short-change ourselves, sacrificing conversation for mere connection. We pass on the messiness of true friendship, and settle for a version of connectivity that allows us to dip in to the bits that we want to, and edit and retouch what we give of ourselves. As AIs (artificially intelligent machines) become more like a best friend, someone to listen when others won’t, we are tempted by these machines that give us the illusions of companionship without the demands of friendship. They give us the control and simplicity we crave, even as they distance us from reality.
“Have we so lost confidence that we will be there for each other? We expect more from technology and less from each other.” A mic-drop moment from Sherry Turkle. A challenge to me on how I use technology, how I relate to other people, and what I give of myself in those relationships. Because this connected-but-alone image isn’t what we see in the Bible – instead we see a beautiful picture of lives shared, in all their messiness and in all their glory – just like the first community of believers in Acts 2:42-47. When you open yourself up to be vulnerable with somebody, you let them see all of you – no editing, no filtering, no retouching. There is power in the vulnerability of real, messy relationships.
What an opportunity this all is for we as the Church to be radically counter-cultural, replacing humanity’s lost confidence that we will be there for each other.
Don’t get me wrong – I love technology, and I’m a huge social media fan. But I also love getting to know people. Scratching beyond that digital surface.
I lead an initiative called The Esther Collective – we gather a group of 18-30s women to journey together, exploring their God-given identity and purpose. During that time, we connect with each other both online and offline. But there is no doubt that the most powerfully ‘real’ moments in the year are when people gather together and open up in a free, vulnerable and un-edited way with one another.
So, while I might not be about to deactivate my Facebook account, I do hope that 2017 will be a year in which I love better, listen more, and learn to open up my life – ready and willing to embrace the un-edited messiness of it all!