It's time to publicly confess: I'm a geek, I love technology. I am connected 24/7, an early adopter with gadgets galore and have more online social profiles than even I can remember. My mobile is full of apps and I consume all my media digitally. I can’t even remember the last time I went to a video shop to rent a movie. As a futurist I am excited about discovering how this digital revolution will let us live better lives but I believe we are letting technology take us down the wrong paths.
This new digital paradigm is changing how we relate to society, families, friends and God.
Social Research psychologist, Dr Sherry Turkle, has been researching its influence in our lives. “These socially connected devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful that they don't only change what we do, they are changing who we are," she said. "Some of the things we do now, only a few years ago, we would have found odd or disturbing.”
Families sit around the dinner table texting. During board meetings, classes and even, heaven forbid, the church service, people have this urge to update and connect, to see and be seen by others, albeit heavily edited, controlled and distant.
The Mental Health Foundation recently released a report that found 53 per cent of the 18-34 age group had depression because of loneliness. This is the most socially connected generation ever, and yet we are in the middle of an epidemic of isolation and loneliness, which is detrimental to both our mental and physical health. A review of 148 relationship studies found that loneliness weakened our cardiovascular and immune systems, and was as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.
Dr Turkle cuts to the core of the issue: “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”
We assume these constant digital connections will make us feel less lonely but the opposite is true. We exist online and yet deny full attention to the people around us—we are hiding from each other, even though we are constantly connected. We end up isolated and do not cultivate the capacity for solitude, that space where you find yourself so you have the ability to reach out and develop real and intimate relationships with other people and with God.
“If we are unable to be alone,” said Dr Turkle, “we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.”
Mobile connectivity is changing our psyches. The moment people are alone, they become anxious. They fidget and reach for their phone. It's as if being alone is a symptom that needs curing. Dr Turkle has coined the phrase “I share therefore I am”, which describes the psychological shift from “I have a feeling, I will have a conversation” to “I want a feeling, so I launch Facebook”. Constant connectivity has become a psychological drug; if we don’t have this feeling we don’t feel like ourselves, so we connect more and more, but in the process, we become isolated.
And yet God asks for solitude, for quiet, for self-reflection and space within His created nature, without the status update, the "like" of a friend's photo and "ding" of a new message. The Bible makes this clear in Psalms 46:10: “Be still and know I am God."
Unfortunately, we are training ourselves out of the capacity of being still, of the solitude that helps us form and maintain our relationships with our friends, family and God. If we cannot be still, will we hear the voice of God in our lives, or see God in His creation?
I’m not suggesting we turn away from social media or throw our smart phones in the bin. I’m suggesting we think of solitude as a God-given tool to find ourselves and our connection to Him. We were created to have an intimate relationship with God. Let's create sacred spaces and times to rediscover and encourage uninterrupted conversation. Have a tech-free breakfast or celebrate no technology after sunset, and most important, the Facebook-free bedroom. God gave us the Sabbath to stop, nature to be embraced by, community to celebrate in, marriage to discover real intimacy and the cross to have hope in.
“Be still and know.”