Isolation and the Culture of Social Networks

At this very moment I am sitting in the middle of an unusually large starbucks, pondering the rather common reality of this generation of people and our interactions (or lack thereof) with each other. As I look around the room I see at least two people I know. Neither of these people have said hello to me. There hasn’t been any attempt at contact from my end either. And yet, this is perfectly normal, and acceptable by the standards of our culture today. Fifty years ago it would have been considered hurtful and rude to not at least say hello to someone you know, and even polite to ask how they and their family are doing. Somewhere along the way we lost touch with community, and instead replaced it with “social networking.”

I’ll be honest, I particularly despise small talk. I’ve never enjoyed having the “how’s the weather” conversation with anyone. I have been known to avoid people I see in public that I am merely acquaintances with, in the attempt to dodge the meaningless conversation that inevitably happens due to the fact that you have nothing real to talk about with someone you are only partially involved with or may have lost touch with at some point. Do I think this feeling, or the way I deal with this feeling, is somehow right or justified? No. I actually think its wrong to feel this way. My beliefs about relationships and community compel me to believe its wrong. I should WANT to talk to anyone that is willing to talk to me. I should be excited to see someone I know. I should encourage connection with other people in my life, and yet I discourage connection and am rather annoyed by conversation with people most of the time. Some might say its a part of my personality. Recently I was forced to take the Meyers-briggs personality assessment. I say forced, mostly because a good friend of mine decided It was a good time to take this test while I was driving and stuck in a car with her, so she read the questions off and I answered them. It made the trip go by much faster at least. By the end of the assessment, we discovered that I am particularly introverted, naturally inclined to be reclusive and shut the world out. Does this make it OK for me to do so? No. Personality assessments only serve to help us better understand ourselves and our natural inclinations, as well as our weaknesses. They help us to see where we can improve and progress towards a more balanced and healthy life. I understood these things about myself a few years ago and began trying to force myself to enjoy connection with people more on a daily basis. Since then I have definitely felt the struggle within myself to revert back to my nature. But It has made me grow so much on a very personal level. If we want to grow as people, we must face our weaknesses and understand them, and then move past them.

I say all of this because I believe we are struggling as a generation with the same weakness. We are all struggling with intimacy. We have forgotten what it means to love one another and care for someone other than ourselves. I propose the theory that Social Networking has become the downfall of our culture on a very fundamental and relational level. Granted, we were struggling with the same problem 20 years ago, but today it is so widespread. In an age of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare (like anyone really uses this anymore), Texting, and informationally driven technology like smart phones and tablets, we can literally always be connected to one another, always involved in everyones business. If we are always connected, there’s no need to call one another, no need to visit one another. Hell, there’s no reason to even talk anymore! We have advanced beyond the need to be social with one another, we can hold someone’s up-to-the-minute life in the palm of our hands. How great is that! How amazing! So Incredible! We are so awesome!

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Ok, but here’s the problem….

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By leaving all of our relationships in the hands of twitter, Facebook, etc…We are actually cheapening the meaning of relationship all together. What social networking has done is it has made everyone a part of a giant reality show. Have you ever watched The Real World? Or Jersey Shore? Or pretty much anything on MTV, VH1, and so on… Everyone wants to be a part of this world these days. So many men want to compete for the glory of their 15 minutes of fame, so many women want nothing more than to be a “Real Housewife” of whatever city… So we update our statuses, we check-in, we share pictures and videos, we tweet and comment and so on, in the hope that we can get the masses to buy into the drama that is our lives. We are cheapening ourselves, selling ourselves, for what? Do we even know why we do it anymore? At first the novelty was intoxicating. But with time the intoxication is becoming more toxic to our existence.

We exist only in our little bubbles, our little worlds, walking around, living life inside ourselves. I would be willing to bet the percentage of people who are introverted are on the rise with people under 30 years old. In an age where we are supposedly always connected to everyone, we are struggling with the highest percentages of depression, loneliness, and suicide of any generation before us. Something is obviously missing. Maybe we need that real connection after all. Maybe that real life “hello” is what our souls are craving. We long to feel connected to those around us, to be a part of a real life community. We seek community in cheap imitations, rather than putting in the effort to actually take the risk of opening ourselves to real relationship and living life with real people. How very American of us.

We are yearning to break free from the confines of Isolation perpetuated by our culture ruled by social networks. Such a common tale, the American culture once again falling short of providing what we actually need. We can add this to the seemingly never ending list of needs our culture fails to meet. However, I don’t believe this is any accident. America is, in many ways, the hardest country to be a Christian in. We may not be persecuted for our beliefs in America (yet), but we have more Idols in this country than we can count. The greatest danger to our faith is the ever-growing reality of cheapened life. We are always looking for the best bargain for our buck. Its no wonder we cheapen even the Gospel. Its no surprise that millions flock to the prosperity gospel. Its so much easier in this culture to believe in something that will make it easier to obtain everything we want or think we need, than to believe in something that is completely countercultural, forcing us to reject the very things our country seems to be about these days. How do we reconcile such an obstacle?

Okay, so maybe that last paragraph is a little deeper than the topic at hand. Maybe thats a whole other blog all together. Lets get back on track… Something I’ve realized about myself is that no matter how introverted I may be, I long for real relationship. Its real conversations with real people who really care about me that makes me feel better about myself, my life, and actually encourage me to keep on living. No matter how bad things get, a simple conversation with someone who expresses they really care about me seems to give me hope. I want to do this for the people God puts in my life in whatever capacity. I hope we can reclaim the real meaning of relationship in our lives, and not be afraid to take the risk and open ourselves up to one another. Yeah.. we could fall, someone might break our hearts. But isn’t it worth the risk? Isn’t it what Jesus did? Isn’t it what this life is all about anyway?

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One thought on “Isolation and the Culture of Social Networks

  1. My fave part:

    “Maybe we need that real connection after all. Maybe that real life “hello” is what our souls are craving. We long to feel connected to those around us, to be a part of a real life community. We seek community in cheap imitations, rather than putting in the effort to actually take the risk of opening ourselves to real relationship and living life with real people.”

    My least fave: “stuck in a car with her”…. Sounds like that girl tortured you! 😛

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