A November Pew Forum report paints a pretty powerful picture of the role technology plays in our lives. It reports; “Some 85% of American adults own a cell phone, and these mobile devices now play a central role in many aspects of their owners’ lives according to a new survey. For many cell owners, their phone is an essential utility that they check frequently, keep close at all times, and would have trouble functioning without:
· 67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating. Some 18% of cell owners say that they do this “frequently."
· 44% of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night.
· 29% of cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without."[i]
The report also portrays the reality is that only a handful, by percentage, worry if they may be spending too much time on their cell phones. Most of us have come to think that our current level of accessibility and connectivity is the norm and simply the way you have to operate in this era. But there have begun to be voices that are asking if we have moved toward a life of disconnected connection.
Not long ago I heard Sherry Turkle on CBS This Morning. She is a psychologist and professor at M.I.T. and a respected author. In her interview she said something that impacted me profoundly. She observed that our cell phones make us near to those who are far, and far from those who are near. In a op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review she wrote. “We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection. At home, families sit together, texting and reading e-mail. At work executives text during board meetings. We text (and shop and go on Facebook) during classes and when we’re on dates. My students tell me about an important new skill: it involves maintaining eye contact with someone while you text someone else; it’s hard, but it can be done.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.
We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being ‘alone together.’ Technology-enabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention. We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one, loyal to our own party.”[ii]
Turkle’s voice is not alone. In a article intended for business leaders in Forbes writes; “On a crisp Friday afternoon last October, Sharon Seline exchanged text messages with her daughter who was in college. They ‘chatted’ back and forth, mom asking how things were going and daughter answering with positive statements followed by emoticons showing smiles, b-i-g smiles and hearts. Happiness. Later that night, her daughter attempted suicide. In the days that followed, it came to light that she’d been holed up in her dorm room, crying and showing signs of depression — a completely different reality from the one that she conveyed in texts, Facebook posts and tweets.
As human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. Indeed, it’s only when we can hear a tone of voice or look into someone’s eyes that we’re able to know when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean they’re fine at all…or when ‘I’m in’ doesn’t mean they’re bought in at all.[iii]
How is it possible that we can have so many tools for communication and still feel increasing disconnected from one another? How can we have hundreds of friends on Facebook but more and more feel all alone? The inherent weakness in most of our online communication is that they are carefully crafted words designed to communicate what we want others to hear rather than an accurate depiction of our emotional and spiritual journeys. We share words with one another, but it is increasingly heard to share our lives with one another.
I need to be clear. I do not come to this moment as an anti-technology advocate. I believe that there is great value in the tools that we now possess that can help us contact, connect, and engage with each other. There is great value in a Facebook post that invited people to come together. Email has become an essential communication tool. Texting can help us reach out to others and connect with them where they are. Twitter, Instagram, and the ever increasing social media tools can empower us and allow us to engage our friends and the broader community in remarkable ways. The issue becomes when the technological tools we possess begin to possess us in ways that are unhealthy – and that can lead to a growing sense of compulsion or isolation. If we are not careful, we can find ourselves so focused on social communication that we miss offline living relationships.
To be honest, I probably struggle with this issue as much as anyone else I know. The chime of a text immediately draws my eye. Every time a new email pops up, I am tempted to stop and drop and read it that moment. When I post of Facebook I am anxious to see who responds. When my cell phone rings I am tempted to answer it, no matter where I am or who I am with. The tug of technology is powerful. But, I have come to believe that our high level of connectivity has made it increasingly difficult to be authentically with whom we are with – to truly be present with one another and for one another. This is more than a technological issue. Our culture finds meaningful conversations between the generations a rare exception rather than a common occurrence. One of the reoccurring marital issues I see is that the sound of the television has drowned out the opportunity to talk face-to-face.
It is amazing that words penned two thousand years ago can speak with such clarity into this moment in our history. It is one more proof that the Word of God transcends place and time. Our worship guide names two passages tied to this morning’s message. We listened as the first five verses of Philippians 2 were read into our service. We will come back to these words. But first I want to pause for a moment on the second passage, I Corinthians 12:14-28. I do not want read it, but I encourage you to do so. What I want to do is remind you that in this passage Paul reaches out to the church in Corinth that had become disconnected from one another with a picture of the human body. He wanted them to understand that each one of them had value and that they needed one another – that they were essential for one another – built together by God. I bring this passage into this conversation because it is essential that we understand that we need a relationship with one another than transcends a text, an email, or a Facebook message. We need to engage with one another in authentic relationship because we can never be the people God intends for us to be without each other.
Our search for significance compels us to move from a disconnected connection to Christ-centered relationships of significance that can transform the way we related to each other. We are created and meant for relationships that are life-giving and grace filled. In his words to the church at Philippi Paul speaks to what an authentic relationship in Christ is supposed to look like. Paul teaches that in a Christ-centered relationship we not only need each other but that we are called to connect with one another by modeling for one another the love- spirit-purpose reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is the kind of relationship where comfort, tenderness, compassion and fellowship born in the heart of Jesus rules. It is the kind of relationship with the narcissistic ambition and conceit gives way to humility and selflessness. It is the kind of relationship where we purposefully and meaningfully invest in and value one another. It is an invitation to be fully with who you are with and to fully engage with those that God brings into your life. This is an unplugged offline face-to-face relationship where we embrace one another beyond the 125 letters allowed by Twitter or quick pic posted on Instagram. A Christ-centered relationship compels us to get to know each other beyond the surface level smiley face and to hear and engage in each other’s real life story. So I invite you to try a cell phone free dinner where the only sound at the table is one another’s voices. I invite you choose to invite someone out to coffee rather than having a text conversation. I invite you to take a TV free evening where you share stories from life and work with one another. I invite you to talk to each other – and to listen. I invite you to practice being present for one another – distraction free – wholly and holy focused on one another. I plead with you to move from disconnected connections to Christ-centered redemptive relationships. They will lift your heart and nourish your soul. It is what God meant for us all along.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.
[i] Aaron Smith, “The Best (and Worst) of Mobile Connectivity,” available online at http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Best-Worst-Mobile.aspx on July 11, 2013.
[ii]Sherry Turkle “The Flight from Connection,” The New York Times Sunday Review Op-Ed, April 22, 2012
[iii] Susan Tardanico, “Is Social Media Sabotaging Real Communication,” 4/30/12 available online at http://www.forbes.com/sites/susantardanico/2012/04/30/is-social-media-sabotaging-real-communication/ on July 13, 2013.