Once upon a time in a land far, far away, families gathered around campfires, wood stoves, or in gas-lighted parlors to talk, share stories, or recapture family memories. Or they congregated at a dinner table, not only to eat but also to converse. They’d ask mundane questions like, “How was your day?” – and actually wanted to hear the answer.
Then devices called radios were invented, becoming centers of attention as mother, father and children – and even extended family – would join in a living room or kitchen to listen to the news, comedies, dramas, and suspense shows. Sound effects incorporated into programming flung imaginations into many directions.
Next came the television, at first having a grand total of three stations for most users. Because program selections were limited each evening, parents and offspring again convened to laugh together, share shivers during mysteries and thrillers, and sing along to musical variety shows.
|Are we in danger of becoming, as|
Gary Turk suggests, "a generation
of idiots, smartphones and
With the advent of cable TV, programming choices exploded in number, and in most homes TVs multiplied so each family member could view the show of their own choice. No need any longer to huddle together, to laugh or cry together. Uniting around entertainment became so old-fashioned, and now, so-20th century.
Today we don’t even need individual TVs. We have tablets and smartphones with live-streaming, along with a vast menu of movies, online-only programs, apps, and videos – myriad alternatives for grabbing and holding onto our attention. Even email has become outdated for some, replaced by texting and social media. Who needs to talk to one another, to gaze intently into someone else’s eyes – and listen? If we do feel the need to look, there’s always Skype or FaceTime.
Intentionally or not, we’re increasingly dispensing with the bother of real, physical human contact. Even in shopping malls, restaurants, or meeting rooms, noses are buried in technological gadgets that spare us the annoyance of having to take part in direct, personal, face-to-face interaction.
This point is well-presented in “Look Up,” a clever video produced by Gary Turk, a viral filmmaker and speaker from London, England, and posted on Viral Thread. In a slow-paced rhyme, he starts by declaring, “I have 422 friends, and yet I am lonely.” Then he adds, “this media we call social is anything but…. We’re at our most happy with an experience we share, but is it the same if no one is there?”
It seems, if anything, our “social media” has turned into anti-social media, encouraging isolation and diminishing our capacities to engage and reason with and care for one another. We’ve all seen car bumper stickers that read, “Co-Exist,” but how can we do that alone, in solitary settings?
This is why one of the underlying precepts of the Bible is the idea of genuine relationships – God’s desire to have a relationship with each of us, individually and collectively, and the value of our relationships with one another.
It’s been like that from the start. After creating the first human, God declared, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The Lord then fashioned “a helper suitable for him,” woman. Nothing suggests God’s reasoning was, “Well, Adam needs someone he can text.”
After first sending out His 12 disciples, Jesus then “appointed 72 others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go” (Luke 10:1). He instructed them not to take even a purse or bag or sandals, and definitely didn’t command them to bring smartphones.
Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, the apostle Paul said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Addressing believers in the city of Philippi, Paul wrote, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In both cases, truth, principles and practices were taught in the context of close, highly interactive relationships.
The writer of the book of Hebrews also underscored the importance of “hanging out” together, communicating in meaningful ways. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I’m not advocating a boycott of social media, or refusing to utilize the advantages of email and texting. But when they transform into anti-social media, inhibiting us from appreciating and enjoying real time with real people – preferring tweets, icons and emojis over eye contact and real smiles – then maybe it’s time for social mediation.