One of my friends is a retired Army officer. To be more precise, he’s a retired infantry officer. While the infantry is usually the point of military humor, my friend will tell you the battle isn’t really engaged and never really won until the infantry gets there. He’s not really impressed with drones, satellites and cyber warfare. For him, the enemy isn’t conquered and the battlefield is never owned until an infantry soldier is standing there holding the ground.
For my friend, it’s all about boots on the ground.
Our world has become infatuated with all of our technology. Want to find out the answer to something? Google it. Want to see a famous speech or lecture (and a couple thousand cat videos)? You’ll find that on YouTube. Want to see what’s going on in the lives of your friends? Open up FaceBook or Instagram.
But for all of our advancements in technology, we’re finding out there’s a serious downside to our digital world. Our new world is lonely. Recent studies have found young adults are some of the loneliest people in our nation. In one of those studies, most people interviewed couldn’t name five people they could call if they were in trouble. How can that be? How can be lonely if you have hundreds, if not thousands of friends on social media?
Well, in the words of my retired military friend, social media can’t put “boots on the ground.” Social media can’t come see you in the emergency room. Digital friends can’t come see you in the hospital. “Likes” won’t come sit with you when your world has fallen apart and not say anything, just love you enough to just sit there. Your cell phone can’t hug you.
There’s just something about being there. Human beings were created for relationship. We thrive, we’re our best selves, only in relationship with God and each other. In the beginning of creation, God determined it wasn’t good for man to be alone. Thus, Eve was created and given to the man and the family was established. Families got together and formed tribes and tribes formed nations. Everybody seemed to understand we’re all in this together and our survival as individuals and as a people depended on our working together.
But that didn’t last long. As our cultures and societies began to thrive, we became less dependent on each other. People were able to live more and more solitary lives without needing their neighbors. We didn’t have to know the farmer because we got eggs at the grocery store. We didn’t have to know our butcher because our meat is pre-packaged. Students didn’t hand in their papers with their names in the upper right hand of the paper. Digital forms are set in and signed with student numbers. In some classes, students can pass the course and never be known by the professor at any level.
We text each other. We send emails and videos. We keep up with each other on our social media platforms. We know what each other had for dinner. These days, people seemed to be obligated to post photographs of what they’re eating. I’ve seen two young people sitting next to each other —texting each other. I guess face to face conversation was just too intimidating.
But life happens. Life happens a lot. Children get sick. Friends lose their jobs. Marriages fail. When that happens, we’re going to have to find a way to reach out to one another in tangible and real ways. Somehow, in order to really care for each other, in order to hang on to our humanity, we’re going to have to, in the words of my retired military friend, find a way to put some boots on the ground.
Social media is great. Gadgets are a lot of fun, but if we’re not careful, we’ll miss the important moments of our lives because we were looking at our screens.
Put your cell phone down. Look at the person you’re talking to. Take your wife on a date and leave the phone in the car. Hang out with your kids and don’t allow gadgets into those moments. Sure, they’ll protest, but you are the grown up. Go see your friends. Look at them while they answer the question, “How are you?” More times than not, you’ll be able to see they’re lying. They’re not OK, but your digital device won’t be able to pick that up.
Pray. Leave your phone in the other room. No one more important than Jesus is going to call you while you’re praying. Our gadgets were created to help us. When they start hurting us then it’s time to think about doing something else.
Life wasn’t meant to be lived 140 characters at a time. Love can’t be emailed. Real love requires “boots on the ground”.