The Illusion of Companionship

Are you reading this on your mobile device? Over half of my readers access my blogs and messages via a smart phone or tablet. But does yours feel like it’s surgically attached to you?

I sometimes feel like mine is, which is why I’ve been taking consistent and proactive steps to disconnect from the technology in my life for large blocks of time. One way we do that at our home is attempt to leave our devices out of family activities such as eating or watching a program together.people-on-cellphones However, the fact that one of the three of use doesn’t have a smart phone helps to encourage that…ahem.

That’s why I was so interested in a TED talk that recently came to my attention. It was given about two years ago by psychologist Sherry Turkle and called, “Connected, But Alone” (https://www.ted.com/speakers/sherry_turkle). Turkle shows how we can easily hide behind our devices while asserting we are staying more connected. She speaks to how we can easily present a very different person online than who or what we are in person. The person we portray in cyberspace can be who we want to be, not necessarily who we are.

Turkle’s not talking about a personal profile where I shave 15 years off my age or reduce my waist size by four inches. What she is talking about are the mistakes and foibles we make when cultivating friendships face-to-face. Those are frequently lost online. When friends see us for who we are it deepens our bond with them, even if the experience is unpleasant due to misstating our intentions.

Online we sanitize our messages, editing and re-editing what we say. How many times have you edited your Facebook postings? I do all the time. Sometimes I even delete them. The blog you’re currently reading has gone through several edits and re-writes in the span of only a few days.

Or you may have said something online or in an email you would never say to someone face-to-face. We can easily hide behind our computer screens or smart phones, as if the person we are online is some kind of avatar of who we wish we were.

I would urge you to follow Turkle’s suggestion that we “use technology to make this the life we can love.” For example, I get Tweets at just the right time, or text messages from a loved one that mean so much to me, especially when I’m away from home traveling, as I often am on a weekly basis.

That doesn’t, however, replace the safety and affection I feel in the arms of my beloved. Just as I love receiving wonderful eCards, I treasure the person who cares enough to send a physical card through the mail (you remember stamps, right?).

Without the technology of today and that which shall arrive in the future I would not be able to have the life and ministry I have. To say that I appreciate these devices would be an understatement.

Still, we must all strive to consider another quote of Turkle: “Our technologies give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” Let us not have the illusion of companionship. Let us do what it takes to cultivate enduring friendships – warts and all – both online and in “real time.”

In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,

Terry

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