Incredibly connected. Incredibly alone. We’ve been watching that reality unfold for years. We’ve been talking about this great irony as well. Technology has given us an amazing and unprecedented ability to be connected all the time to a greater and greater number of people. Still, we are more alone, lonely, and dissatisfied than ever.
A few days ago I read a provocative article by Stephen Marche in The Atlantic: “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” Marche writes, “Within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sac and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.” The article is worth reading and pondering.
Marche’s article spurred some thoughts that I think we should consider.
First, alienation is a part of life in our broken and fallen world. We should never be surprised by its presence. Its presence is actually a groan for the wholeness only God can bring. Our rebellion in the Garden undid everything. We’re now alienated from God, from others, from our world, and from ourselves. Even when we find ourselves graciously pulled by our Maker onto the path of redemptive wholeness, the gnawing pain of alienation continues to rear its ugly head. There is a day coming, however, when that gnawing will be wiped away.
Second, our “friends” aren’t really our friends. If they are, then I’m one lucky guy. As of this morning, I had 3255 “friends” on Facebook. Friends??? Really??? No. Reality is, these are “contacts.” I don’t know them all. They all don’t know me. And, the only reason the number is what it is is because I live in the world of youth ministry and this is where we’ve all decided to network. That’s a good thing. But to say we’re all “friends” . . . that would drain the word “friend” to the point where it means absolutely nothing.
Third, we’re extremely fortunate and realistic if we can count our true friends on one hand. Seriously. These are the people with whom we can be transparent. They are people who are willing to call us out. They are people who see us as we really are and keep on looking. I will put a finger up for my wife. . . . my best friend. . . the person who knows me well. By the way, she’s not on Facebook. Then, there are a handful of trusted confidantes who share life with me at the deepest of levels. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to even have the time to invest in more than a handful of these folks. I think people are lonely because they have thousands of contacts and maybe not a single friend.
Fourth, we are so alienated from our selves and others that we leverage social media to create and recreate avatars of ourselves. Sure, we use a genuine photo(s) of ourselves. . . carefully posed. . . carefully edited. . . carefully chosen. We do this because we don’t like ourselves. We do this because we want to cover up who we really are. We do this because we want people to see us as something we’re not. We deceive because we don’t want to be exposed. So. . . we carefully create our brand. . . through the deliberate choice of images and words. And when it stops working or we think we can revise it all into something more likable and better. . . we reinvent ourselves. . . again. I love this little line from Marche’s article: “Curating the exhibition of the self has become a 24/7 occupation.”
I have no idea where this is all going to lead. But I do think we need to reckon with it in ourselves, in our students, in our families, and in our ministries.