“You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your products. And then you die.” –Louis C.K.
It takes seven minutes before a conversation, almost any conversation, gets real.
Up until then we are able to talk about sports -“How bout them Cowboys?!!” the weather -“If you don’t like the weather around here just wait ‘til the next day” or a variety of superficial things in our day -“Did you catch last night’s Modern Family?”
But after seven minutes someone takes a risk. Someone makes themselves just a little bit vulnerable and allows themselves to be known. These days we have more conversations than ever, but we rarely have seven consecutive minutes of it.
This is an observation from Sherri Turkle whose work in books like Alone Together has been incredibly helpful for the ways that technology is changing us. And it was a huge “Aha” moment for me.
Seriously, does this not help you make sense of so much of your life? Chances are, if you are like me, you talk to people all the time. Since the advent of the smart phone we haven’t stopped spending time at mixers/parties/churches/work, but we rarely go anywhere without our devices and without incessantly using them.
And Turkle says this changes the conversation.
Screen On/Tuned Out
So I am in the middle of a series reviewing Andy Crouch’s fantastic new book The Tech-Wise Family and today I want to introduce you to his radical idea that conversations matter enough to attend solely to them, to give space for them, and to create a pattern of life for the best kind of conversations to occur.
A conversation that is interrupted several times by checking your screen doesn’t get deeper slowly, instead it stays superficial, and never lets two people get into the very stuff that would help them bond and connect and develop a deeper relationship with one another.
This is one of the most fascinating observations Andy made in his book. And when I read this the first time I immediately thought “This is why so many people are lonely these days.”
The rise of loneliness in our late modern era is enough to be called an epidemic. But what is truly surprising is not just that so many people feel lonely, but who feels lonely.
In my own experience, both personal and in ministry, loneliness is not just prevalent in people who have very little social interaction, but with people who from the outside looking in appear to have a lot of friends. These are people who many would consider to be popular and socially engaged, but many of them feel a great sense of loneliness too.
When I read Andy’s chapter on Conversations, I realized why. It is not just quantity of conversations that makes us feel connected to one another, it is the quality of them, and the quality is trending downward.This alone should make us revisit our relationships with the technology in our lives. Because this is great proof that our devices and social media are lying to us.
Think about the sales pitch you heard that made you first buy your smart phone or sign up for Facebook? Wasn’t it that you wanted to be more connected?
Well it turns out that is not working.
The Disruption of Devices
In an interesting Forbes article a few months ago, Caroline Beaton wrote Why Millennials Are Lonely and she said:
One reason the Internet makes us lonely is we attempt to substitute real relationships with online relationships. Though we temporarily feel better when we engage others virtually, these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. Online social contacts are ‘not an effective alternative for offline social interactions,’… In fact, the very presence of technology can hinder genuine offline connection. Simply having a phone nearby caused pairs of strangers to rate their conversation as less meaningful, their conversation partners as less empathetic and their new relationship as less close than strangers with a notebook nearby instead.
And now that we know, what are we going to do with that information?
Andy suggests some basic but life-altering tips in his book. Like “Make Car time conversation time.” Don’t immediately turn on the radio, or have DVDs for road trips, instead practice getting to know and connect to each other.
Keep the TV out of the main room, put your smart phones to bed before you do, and never in the same room as you sleep. Make choices about a pattern of life you want to have, and keep your devices from creeping into your lives, and just as importantly into your conversations.
I know that sounds like a hard sell. Nobody else is doing this, and it requires some true courage and discipline, but c’mon, don’t we intuitively know it’s worth it? Don’t we all want true and deep friendships that don’t just involve being in the same room with someone while we each stare at our own screens?
The NY Times columnist David Brooks wrote last year that the best the internet can give us is a little fun and diversion. It is, at most, a way to have a day of happy touch points. But then Brooks goes on to say:
“Phone addiction is making it harder to be the sort of person who is good at deep friendship. In lives that are already crowded and stressful, it’s easier to let banter crowd out emotional presence. There are a thousand ways online to divert with a joke or a happy face emoticon. You can have a day of happy touch points without any of the scary revelations, or the boring, awkward or uncontrollable moments that constitute actual intimacy.”
It is a way to go through life a little bit drunk with technology, always feeling the numb buzz of the ever present cloud, without engaging the true joy that might just be in front of you.
Brooks ends his article with the same thing Andy is suggesting:
“A modern version of heroism is regaining control of social impulses, saying no to a thousand shallow contacts for the sake of a few daring plunges.”