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Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Lonliness of Techno-Isolation

I read a great article from National Catholic Register this weekend, and it does give food for thought:

The loneliness of modernity is the loneliness of Babel.

Its foundation is a breakdown of the means by which people enter into each others’ lives in a meaningful way, a replacement of genuine communication with superficial substitutes. Whether it is the substitution of “open relationships” for marriage or the substitution of “family TV” for time spent together, the effect is the same: The existentialist nightmare pictured in Sartre’s “No Exit” has come to pass.

We live and breathe and move through life surrounded by other people and yet remain in lonely isolation.

Perhaps the greatest culprits are the World Wide Web and the cellular phone. I have walked in on enough MSN chat conversations and looked at enough tweets and posts to know that for the most part, Internet “communication” is well described by Macbeth’s epithet: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Only perhaps without the fury.


Read the entire article. My guess is that you'll agree with some points and not with others.

Technology is a good thing, but it's no substitute. I'm amazed by the people I've met via blogging, and the connections I'm making in other social networks, but I grew up without this stuff. For me, it's not a real connection unless we meet in person. Maybe the connection comes close, and certainly, there are people who are pen-pals for years, so in that case, I'd argue a real human connection.

But for most of us, our internet "friends" are superficial. They fulfill a need in some way, or, if they don't, they're gone and forgotten.

Harsh, isn't it?

It's not the way we're designed. We are made in the image of God, designed for intimacy, our society built upon something solid, not the intangible and fragile universe of computer components. When we type, real people just like us read the words, and when we read the words of others, often they have a very real impact upon us. Flamers hurt us on two levels; both because they suffer from so much hatred that it exudes from their fingertips when they can hide behind an alias or ISP, and because their words are things we'd never want to experience in real life...and yet...we do. The words in writing, I'd argue, are even WORSE than in person because we'd never hear them in person even if we knew they were there, hiding behind the eyes of our interlocutors.

But there's a problem with this social interface; it isn't real. Yes, those of us who have a certain balance in our lives recognize the humanity of others, but I'll still be the first to admit that I've spouted off online where I would have held my tongue in real life. And in that, I've realized the de-humanizing aspect of the internet, and have tried to take care not to take it too personally when someone ruffles my feathers.

It's not always intended, but it happens.

Maybe that's one of the reasons I went to Ohio last summer; because it wasn't sufficient to "know" people via internet, but for real. To connect in real life, for that friendship can only be fulfilled if we can look at each other, if we can speak in person, if we can embrace, and carry our friendship from the keyboard into reality.

Sure, the keyboard connections continue, but they have much more depth now that we know each other.

It is a deprivation to connect...but not complete the connection.

One of the things that concerns me about the abundance of internet socialization is what it is doing to our youth. They spend their days texting people they may never have met...and may never meet. And they don't have the discernment skills to know if they SHOULD take steps to meet those others. They have their most "meaningful" conversations via an iphone which completely disconnects them from emotion or valid intimacy.

And adults who should know better fall into the same trap (lest someone think I'm picking on teens. I'm not.)

Social networking is a tool, not a way of life. If we focus only on our fragile online connections, we'd be lost.

There has to be a balance.

In my own experience, I've experienced some wonderful friendships, and those that are real, and involve real connections, continue to grow. Those that do not fall away. It's not to say that the people at the other end are less worthy of friendship! I only wish I could meet all the wonderful people with whom I've connected online!

But the reality is this; we all have to tend the relationships around us, too.

Today I was invited to a Super Bowl party at a friend's house. We haven't "hung out" for a long time, and I turned it down tonight not because I didn't want to spend time with them, but because I have laryngitis. (It doesn't make a lot of sense to go hang out with friends and sit there silently when of course, we WANT to chatter up a storm. Which I would do in spite of my vocal problem!)

Instead, I spent some time online, here and there connected to people I've never met, commenting on the Super Bowl and the attendant commercials. Yes, it was fun. But a real connection with dear friends would have been better.

Again, we have to have a balance; online networking is great, but we have to make sure we foster our friendships in real life, too.

And as the article says, we have to be willing to be disconnected from ALL of it; to experience solitude in the honest sense of the word, and in that, know ourselves, and know the God who made us.

If we're not taking that time, then no friendships in the world are going to help us.
Ultimately, in all of our social connections, we're looking for God. But if we don't take the time to seek Him in solitude as well as through others, we'll miss Him entirely.

Let us not let technology run our lives, and let us not redefine friendship according to the definitions assigned by social networking, but rather, by our inherent design that demands real personal interaction fueled by knowledge of who we are in relation to God.

10 comments:

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Great post. And timely since I'm setting up a playdate for tomorrow with another Catholic mom whom I met through blogging. :)

One of the things I think you bring up that is a very interesting point is how this all impacts young people. I think that it's much easier for those of us who grew up in a low-tech environment to learn balance in this department. But I too see so many kids these days walking around the streets and in restaurants and other social settings buried in their text messaging, and it concerns me that they'll never learn how to cultivate real flesh-and-blood friendships.

Lots of food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

Adoro said...

Jen ~ Thanks for your comment and have fun on your playdate! I've been so blessed by the people I've met via blogging and can't imagine my life without them now.

I truly hope that somehow the teens today do find the proper balance and aren't stunted into being robots by the technology that overwhelms their lives.

memoriadei said...

For the most part, online communications are nothing but superficial. However, there are a few...very few...with whom we do have simpatico. And even then, things can change and we lose contact. It is said that the more we read online, the harder it is to read a book! Short, quick messages can interfere with our ability to read long articles. I believe this to be true...having a problem with *long*. The answer? If we don't click for the long term, what's the point? I think you are feeling exactly what I have felt for two years now. For me, the answer is not to expect anything but just go with the Holy Spirit as He moves us from person to person. It can feel more lonely communicating on the internet than just being alone in one's home. I understand that. No answers here. Nothing can take the place of community in whatever form that takes...IMHO

Adoro said...

Memoriadei ~ Thanks for your comment. I wouldn't say I'm "feeling" anything at all in relation to this topic; this post was written pretty dispassionately, really. What I'm trying to do is just take an analytical look at this, and the reality of it, the impact it has on us.

I agree, if we do a lot of reading in snapshots, it's harder to read something longer. that's something we're dealing with in religious ed; to get and keep attention, of both adults and youth, we need to package things in "sound bites".

It's actually an offense to my sensibilities; NONE of us grew up like this, and it's truly an offense against our intellect and will!

But again, it comes back to having a balance. Good tools are good tools, but our fallen nature corrupts EVERYTHING.

So really, not looking for answers, because I think we already have those. Logic gives us answers. Knowing God gives us answers.

Unfortunately, the answers we know are the very solutions spurned by the secular world, and THAT'S where we need to meet people.

Yes, follow the Holy Spirit, and indeed, He has connected me with many wonderful people, both through real events in my life and through online connections, all within the Church. He created the proper balance.

I guess I'm just looking for comments like yours, to see what you think, what you're seeing and experiencing.

Thanks!

uncle jim said...

I think I like you better in person.

This comment is too artificial over the internet.

If you were here in the flesh, you could be helping us with our High School Confirmation Class.

Over a keyboard we just swap ideas ... sometimes - more often, opinions.

Adoro said...

Uncle Jim ~ I like you better in person, too! It's nice to stay in touch, but it would be better to sit down and grab a cup of coffee or have dinner with you and Aunt Ros!

uncle jim said...

The way I figure, the area NW of Chicago out around the Airport [OHare] is about half-way.

Adoro said...

Well, if I can ever afford to go to Chicago or find myself in the vicinity...I'll let you know!

What about Madison? Only a couple hours further for you...lol

Cygnus said...

Guilty as charged. I put way too much stock into Internet friendships, and I really got slammed for it (wanna lose worldly "friends" fast? Stick up for things like Prop 8!). Even my Christian "friends" were superficial at best, preferring to stick with the herd than stand up for what's right.

Facebook is a little better because I deal with real people that I have known, but your point's not lost on me. Real reality is better than virtual reality (he said, as he commented on a blog post).

Adoro said...

I love my internet friends, and if I can meet them in real life, I want to. And for some, there's hope that'll happen. That's part of what I love about the Catholic connection...our real bond is our faith, and that's what brings us together in real life.

But in the past I was involved in other forums, connected by only a hobby...I never met any of them, and some of them were "around" when I experienced my conversion...and they quickly went away of their own accord.

I love this as a tool...but it's definitely not a substitute for being face to face live and in person!