Last week, I (Michayla) got really sick with bronchitis. I couldn’t come in to work, and I couldn’t go out with friends. When my husband left for work in the morning, I found myself reaching for the computer. Why? The solitude was bugging me. I wanted to feel connected to people.
If you have read any of my posts here, you know that I appreciate technology and social media; however, you also know that I have a healthy dose of caution when it comes to how we use it.
Sherry Turkle is a psychologist and sociologist who has devoted most of her career to studying how technology shapes what we do and who we are. Her most recent book (Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other) and TED talk discuss how social media has affected our capacity for relationships, intimacy, and authentic communication. There are many points in the book and talk that I could discuss here, but I will zero in on a few that really resonated with me.
“Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved.” – Turkle
When we run to social media to alleviate our sense of loneliness, we are using people to (as Turkle puts it) “support our fragile sense of self.” God made us to be deeply relational people. We are made to have a relationship with Him and with others. Yet, we also need to have the ability to handle solitude. In solitude, I connect with the Lord and have the ability to reflect on Him and who He created me to be in this world. Social media should not be a deterrent to developing the capacity for a healthy amount of solitude. The inability to be alone actually develops one’s sense of loneliness according to Turkle. She also made a statement that calls parents to be very intentional in this area with their children: “If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they are only going to know how to be lonely.” She suggests that parents designate “sacred spaces” where devices are not allowed like at the dinner table or an evening together as a family. This not only makes parents focus on conversation with their children, but it also encourages children to develop the ability to focus, converse, and listen.
“I share, therefore I am.”- Turkle
Turkle proposes that, without connection [online], we do not feel like ourselves. There is definitely a point where I feel this statement breaks down. I would propose it is possible to be oneself online, but I do agree that we often project (to an extent) the “self” that we want to be or want others to see. Turkle says, “Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.” The danger is that we fail to be comfortable with offline conversation (or avoid it) because we cannot control those conversations. They are messy. We can’t edit. We can’t backspace. Face-to-face conversations require more discipline, more effort, and more vulnerability. As Turkle states, “We turn to technology to help us feel connected in ways we can comfortably control. But we’re not so comfortable. We are not so much in control.”
Conversation is a skill that needs development. When our children grow up believing a conversation is easier to have via text or FB message, they will struggle to converse easily as they enter adulthood. Is this the case for all children? No. In many cases, texting and social media can enhance their offline communication. However, this is not the case for each child, and that is where parents need to be intentional.
Social media is a component of how we connect with others, and it is a wonderful way to keep in touch with people who are not in our immediate circle of life. However, it should never become a substitute for real, face-to-face interaction and conversation. It should also not be a place we go to “to be heard.” Are we “heard” on these platforms? Yes, to an extent; however, it should not be our intent for posting on these platforms. Many run to Facebook or Twitter to alleviate the feeling that no one is listening. Turkle says, “And the feeling that no one is listening to me makes us want to spend time with machines that seem to care about us.” May we never run to Facebook before we run to our Father in heaven. May we never trade a deep conversation with a brother or sister in Christ for the short-term gratification of “likes” or comments. Is Facebook/social media bad for us? I don’t think so. I (as you know) really appreciate all that social media has to offer us. After all, it is reflective of who we are as God’s creation—deeply relational. However, is dependency on, addiction to, or misuse of anything bad for us? Of course. So, we must, as God’s children, remember to steward this well just as we seek to honor God with how we steward all aspects of our lives.
We are, as Turkle puts it, a world that is “smitten with technology.” She reminds us that technology is “not all grown up.” It is still in its early days—and that is exciting news for us. It means we can still learn how to best use this tool to benefit our lives. It means we can learn how to pass on best practices to our children. It means that we can shape technology instead of allowing technology to shape who we are. That is really, really good news.
Check out Sherry’s TED Talk here: