The rise of the Internet, smart phones, and social media has been well documented. So has their effects on face-to-face interactions. It is becoming a cliché, a norm, a regrettable but accepted side-effect. The decline of relationships.
Young people are growing up more slowly, inhaling unrealistic expectations concerning instant gratification, and migrating social interaction to screen time rather than face-to-face. And older people aren’t much better.
We have accepted the fact that any given marriage has about a 50-50 chance of survival. The most intimate and meaningful human relationship, a covenant type commitment, has become a coin toss. We watch videos from around the world, but we do not know our neighbors. Friendships come and go as we surround ourselves with those who make us feel comfortable (which is a smaller and smaller crowd in a culture more easily offendable than ever).
Our online activity has neutered human relationships.
We go online and work feverishly to put our best foot forward, salivating at the great pictures we can post to Instagram – how many likes we will get, what others will think when they see us at this great location doing this great thing. We edit our comments, our photos, and our perspective to protect ourselves from rejection, ridicule, or (worse yet) indifference.
What is missing is true vulnerability, true sacrifice, and truly being known. The irony is that without exposing our true selves we cannot be either rejected OR really accepted. And we choose to live in this no-man’s-land of numb complacency.
Human relationship takes risk. It takes exposure. It takes honesty. We cannot be truly known until we ride through the entire mood curve with a person. Most of our online presence is meant to short circuit the pit of despair. An enticing idea, but a disastrous one since the pit is where intimacy with others and character within are developed.
The decay of relating has muddied the purpose of human relationship. We think that human relationships are about affirming us and making us feel better about ourselves. In our individualistic culture, the relationship is a tool to further ME. Relationships are exciting and helpful until the other person disappoints us.
The true purpose of relationship is not self-edification but truth. Humans are created for community because community provides greater insight into truth than we ever could alone. And only then, do we find our elusive self-edification. We’ve equated ‘I am happy’ with ‘I am good’ and they are not at all the same thing.
Our rates of suicide, anxiety, and depression are at all time highs. We do not feel known or seen or truly valued. Because to know and be known requires healthy relationships, a transcendent agenda that is all but baffling to modern day consumers used to instant gratification.
We need to be careful about our expectations of relationship, honestly pursuing a true vision for community that is not just self-serving.
Human relationships are the most powerful and the most dangerous thing about us. Our ability to work together, to care for one another, to discover and innovate and grow is unparalleled in the animal kingdom. As is our capacity for harm. But we cannot destroy the former for fear of the latter. We have done so for far too long.