Why do I Feel so Alone?
Do you recall getting your first smartphone? Personally, I was mesmerised. Suddenly, I could be connected anywhere, anytime. Even on vacation. There were times my son would ask “mum, is your phone more important than speaking to me” and right there is a big slap on the face….bham! As you can imagine, the kids were not nearly as enthralled with the phone as I was. That all changed when the little ones all started to want screens of their own and suddenly, I begun to feel ignored. I could not believe that my son would be watching Peppa pig and breaking out in laughter right there next to me instead of him engaging in conversation or play with me.
It goes without saying that almost anywhere you go, people’s eyes are locked to their devices. Couples in restaurants ignore each other while waiting for their meals and blankly, endlessly scroll down. In so many ways, it is a paradox. We’ve never been more connected as a culture, yet we’ve never felt more disconnected. Most of us are connected to hundreds, even thousands of people via social media and other online platforms. As a result, we all have friends who are not really friends; we’re just connected, whatever that means. Of course there is an upside to connectivity but I will not go into that.
So, who’s to blame?
It is easy to point a finger at technology and decry its evilness. As a parent, I worry at the addiction to gaming or social media I see in preteen and teenage kids. Spouses blame their marriage problems to five- or six-inch screens their partners can’t pull themselves away from. The problem, afterall, must be technology. Indeed, there is growing concern about technology and the effect that it is having and the tech industry is speaking out against the effect of the very things they created. I share those concerns as well.
But is it really that easy? That we throw our devices under the bus (literally) and everything gets better? What if, despite the challenges and the dangers, technology is neither good nor evil but reveals what is already there? At some level, isn’t saying technology is evil the same as saying paper is evil? Paper has been used to craft love letters and issue death threats, to write constitutions and issue declarations of war. Is paper evil really? Similarly, couples were breaking up long before finding their perfect partner online and families had trouble communicating for generations before video-games captured the minds and thumbs of preteen boys.
In my view, what technology is doing is revealing what’s already inside of us. If you are narcissistic by nature, social medial will give you a good platform to express your self-centredness. If you are a workaholic, you will always have access to your office through your devices which you carry everywhere. If you are inclined to look outside your marriage or current relationship for intimacy, it is easier than ever before and takes less courage than it used to.
What we are facing friends, is not a technology problem but a human problem. I ask myself, what is this rapid change of pace and instant connectedness to millions of people actually doing to me? What is happening to my soul, to intimacy, to us?
I believe that as leaders, we need to solve the human problem and not the technology problem because I can assure you, ditching your phone will not help! The challenge is not to resist change but to learn how to thrive in the midst of it. Afterall, disconnection is a human problem and not a technology problem. In my lifetime, I have noticed a steady decline – perhaps the near death – of two things I see sliding further into the abyss with each passing year. Their demise may be part of the reason people feel so distant from others:
1. Death of great conversation: This is the exchange of ideas between two or more people who care enough about one another to listen as the well as speak. Sadly, conversations seem to be devolving into monologues among people who don’t seem terribly interested in one another. People today appear to be talking at each rather than talking with one another. We’ve grown used to posting status updates; telling the world what’s on our mind – we tell rather than ask. We have taken what we do on social media and transported it to live human interactions. We have started assuming that other people are infinitely interested in our lives the way they appear to be online. We are so self-absorbed and think we are Hollywood figures whose lives are endlessly interesting to others, or we are too insecure to admit otherwise. Conversation has become a press conference with whomever happens to be listening. Sadly, it is slowly killing our souls and due to the many monologues, we eventually feel deep loss.
2. Death of confession: You may think confession as something that happens in a catholic church where you divulge your sins to a priest. To me, confession is the part of prayer and life where we come before God and one another to admit all the we aren’t; our shortcomings, our intentional sins and a myriad unintentional sin. We confess our brokenness, we admit we are not all we pretend to be, hope to be or could be. We own up to the fact that we are a mess. Confession is very hard in the best of circumstances and culturally we resist the very idea that its necessary. We have an allergy to the word sin because afterall, nobody really makes mistakes anymore. There is always a scapegoat. It might have been your tough upbringing, your absent father, your overbearing mother or your boss who didn’t like you. We avoid confession because it requires us to look into the mirror. It demands revealing the real you that you don’t want anyone to see. This is the YOU God would love you to bring to Him but you (and I) steadfastly refuse to surrender.
Here’s what I’ve realised in life: confession and progress are inexorably linked. You will never address what you don’t confess. Think about it; it’s the things that you refuse to confess that grate on the relationships that matter to you. Your self-absorption builds a wall between you and your kids, not to mention your friends. Jealousy and envy make it impossible to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone else and your friendships stay shallow and dissolve as a result.
Its no wonder we feel so disconnected. Our lack of confession disconnects us from God, from one another and even from our very souls.
So what do we do? Shut off our devices, go live in the mountain and commune with nature? Hardly…..find out next week and perhaps try what follows next….