I get my hair cut about an hour from my house. Partly this is because I love Amanda, the girl who does my hair…she does a fantastic job. Partly, though, I love the drive. It gives me some time on Saturdays to listen to the radio and to think and to just be alone for a little bit without needing to talk. Usually I listen to NPR on this drive…I love the game shows on Saturday mornings, and This American Life. Today I was out a little later than usual and I caught the TED Radio Hour.
The conversation today was about the impact of technology on our humanity; a conversation I have heard multiple times and even engaged. An important conversation, and especially for those of us of faith…how do we communicate our faith well in this age so dependent on technology. This discussion was different, and the whole hour is worth hearing. If you have limited time, listen to the first speaker and the last. The show is called ‘Do We Need Humans?’
The first woman who spoke, Sherry Turkle, caught my attention immediately. She shares the story of a robotic seal that is made to be used with elderly patients in nursing homes. She tells of an experience watching an older woman who had lost a child holding this robot and stroking it, speaking to it and hearing the ‘animal’ make comforting and responsive sounds. While this is fairly amazing, she was more struck by the group standing and watching, including herself, who were so impressed that they had come up with a robot this woman could relate to and feel comforted by….and Turkle realized that this was the role we as humans were afraid to fulfill. One of the lines was that we are lonely but we fear intimacy. She gives many scenarios where we are engaged with our technology more than we are with the those physically in our presence.
The last speaker, Dr. Abraham Verghese brought the hour to a close in such a tender way. He spoke of the good things of technology in the medical field, but he shared with such a compassionate wisdom that there is nothing that substitutes for the doctor’s hand. The physical touch and the discerning eye can catch things that no technology can understand. The physical touch can also convey so much that will never be replaced by the interaction of social media or technology.
The touch of a hand can overcome our resistance to grief and allow the outpouring of cleansing tears. The embrace of a loved one can stir deep joy and love. The touch…there is nothing that can substitute.
I have to admit that technology plays a large role in our household. The boys love their x-box, Zach his ipod and all love my ipad. Nate is on the computer whenever given the chance, and I can find myself spending hours in front of the screen.
It is easy to say that I am connecting with people…that I am expressing thoughts here on this blog or through conversations on FaceBook or other blogs…and I am developing relationships. There is some truth in that, but there is also truth that those relationships do not require the intimacy or vulnerability of physical relationships. I can edit myself and I can ignore without repercussion. I can make sure that what I put forth is exactly what i want it to be, and I can practice what I say before I put it out there. I do not have to engage if I do not want to, and I do not have to show my weaknesses. I can delete those who annoy me and I can search out those whom I enjoy. I can give as little of myself as I want.
I have just finished reading a few books on different aspects of World War II. One about the French resisters and a group of women who ended up at Auschwitz together. Another about the experience of the Czechs. The story of the Dutch Resisters. Each of these stories had a common theme…the depth of the relationships and how those relationships helped people to survive through the horrors of that time. Those relationships were physical, hands-on, tested relationships.
I wonder if we have lost something with the immersion in our social media…if we expend too much of our energy on those who we know only peripherally while those in our midst who could be deep relationships suffer. It is easier to maintain a friendly and entertaining relationship with those we do not have to actually do life with…those we do not have to face.
Still…social media is such a part of life. I see the boys beginning to engage with texting and chatting on their games. They are developing friendships in a way that is completely foreign to my childhood. There are blessings and dangers, just like with everything…but I am well aware that the technologies they embrace without hesitation need to be faced with intentionality.
We can be whomever we like in our social media and there are few who would check us and test us. There is an aspect of our humanity that suffers with the lack of the human touch, the lack of the tone in our voice and the lack of our eye contact. When we learn to relate predominately through an avenue that is so devoid of so much of humanity, I wonder what the long term impact is on our physical interactions. If we will have the patience and the willingness to invest in the difficult prospect of ‘real’ friendships that just might save us some day in our times of struggle.
I’m thankful for the show I heard today, and for the challenges that they suggested. Some of the other speakers were more encouraging about technology’s impact…but the two I mentioned caught my attention the most. Again and again I come back to the fact that we have to engage our world with great intention or we are swept along with trends which may bring more harm than blessing to our souls. And as I watch the kids…I am well aware that they would easily spend the entire day in front of a screen if given the opportunity, and miss out on the wonder that is just outside the door. Mindlessly entertained, thinking that they have a multitude of friendships when they have little more than virtual playmates.
So…again reassessing the ‘rules’ we have in place, and remembering that they need to apply to myself as well. Opening the doors and remembering that this faith we participate in requires us to face fully toward our God and not be distracted…and to be a part of His People with intention and compassion…and even touch. To be present.