I was contemplating technology yesterday when I came home for lunch and my son (4 years old) was doing his “homework” on the computer. The internet is a great tool and can be used for a lot of good, like teaching my son to read in a fun and systematic way. So, on a daily basis my wife sets him up at the computer and by this point he is more advanced than his sisters were at the same age. This is a good thing, but there is something else I noticed when I came home for lunch yesterday; normally he runs to the stairs and greets me with excitement when I walk through the door. This time, however, he did not run to greet me and when I said hello he did not even turn his head and barely acknowledged my entrance into the room. So I said, “Son, if the computer is going to make it so that you do not even turn your head and say hello when I come home, we will not be allowed to use the computer.” I turned off the computer, picked him up, and gave him a tight squeeze for a few minutes until it was time to eat lunch.
Technology can be a good thing, but I often wonder if it is changing our relationships for the better?
When I was a youth pastor I had two students that were dating who did not know how to communicate; they would talk or argue via text messaging while sitting next to each other on a couch. Texting can be good, but it can also hinder, hurt, or change communication in a way that cause us to mis-communicate.
The same can be said for communication via instant messaging, emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Don’t get me wrong, these are good tools that can help build community, but they can also subtract from the community right in front of us.
I read a book once called “Bowling Alone”, which spoke about the idea that we have intentional and unintentional communities. About 80 years ago a person’s intentional community was their church, their friends, family, and co-workers. Their unintentional community was made up of people they came in contact with on a daily basis who they would not normally pursue to be in relationship with, like the milk man, the mail man, the clerk at the general store, the grocer, you neighbor sitting on the front porch in the hot summer months because it was too warm to stay inside, and the children in the neighborhood that you watched play in the street with one another as they built their intentional community.
Then along came the telephone, and people started developing intentional communities with people who were not even in the same room, sometimes ignoring those within the house as they sought to have a more private, uninterrupted conversation. Add to this air conditioning, which resulted in people staying indoors and avoiding their neighbor, or automatic garage door openers, which resulted in people driving right into their attached garage and entering the house without having to wave to Fred on the way to your private life. Think of Television, it used to be that people arranged the couches and chairs in a living room for conversational entertainment with those they intended to build community with, now the furniture tends to be situated facing the television resulting in less relationship building. Have you ever walked into a home where people are watching TV and notice that the people are usually so fixated on what is on TV that they barely acknowledge the person who just walked into the room? Next time you are sitting around watching TV and someone walks in, look around and pay attention to what people do and you will see what I mean. Now add to this texting, Smart Phones, Lap-Tops, Facebook, and Twitter; it becomes easy to ignore your formerly “intentional community” (family members or people you are hanging out with) making them your unintentional community to pursue an intentional community through technology.
I am not saying technology is bad, but I am saying that we need to learn how to control it so that it does not control us, potentially damaging or hindering the beauty of human relationships, which should involve personal contact. I write this, through a computer, knowing this is a very good form of communication, but also realizing it does not replace a face-to-face with you my friends.