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Thursday, November 7, 2013

.Created to Unplug.

We swiped our metro card and waited to ride. We entered the car quickly and found seats. The subway car bumped along the rusty rails, and I sat back, snug beside my husband and my oldest son. We were headed into Manhattan for a little breather and sight-seeing. I relaxed against my husband, Jim, and did what I love to do in these situations. I people watched - cautiously and discreetly so as not to be a complete creeper. It wasn't long before I looked around and I noticed that everywhere I looked on that car, people were completely lost in their iphone, ipod, or other electronic hand held device. Some were bobbing to their music, some were thumbing through social media, some were texting, some had earbuds in and were snoozing. A few held onto the pole with one hand and an ipad with the other. One thing was the same though - almost all had escaped into a digital world. There wasn't much human connection. Most people were plugged into their device and completely disconnected with the reality around them. I hadn't traveled the subway in over fifteen years, and I was shocked at the difference that had taken place.  It wasn't that friendships were immediately struck up years ago, but there was more of a physical connection. At least that is how I remembered it. I realized that back then this kind of technology did not even exist. As I looked around me human interaction now seemed obsolete, and I was the odd one, without a device glued to my hand.

It is a reality that our world is now immersed in technology. And there are so many amazing benefits to that. Our family benefits from this technology everyday. Our world has gotten smaller, and communication across the globe is accessible now. Almost daily I talk to teenagers an ocean away in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and I am so thankful for the technology to be able to do so. I can instantly share pieces of my life and feel connected to family members across the country. But I also think that all this technology is stealing some of the best parts of humanity and leaving a huge bruise on relationships - an indelible scar on what used to be. I'm not the first blogger to write about this, and I won't be the last, but I couldn't ignore what I witnessed on that subway.

I think we have lost something. We have shrunk the sphere of awareness. As humans we were created for connection - for real, tangible, flesh and blood relationships. We have lost our realness and traded it in for something fake - something less - for air-brushed, neatly orchestrated and edited status updates that only expose what we want to expose. We have grown cold and calculating rather than warm and spontaneous. Sometimes we just need the warmth of skin wrapped around us in an embrace rather than reading {hug}. We need tenderness that cannot be transmitted electronically, and eye contact, and laughter, and smiles that illicit our own. Real life, raw vulnerability, messy imperfections exudes humanity- humanity that we can so easily escape when we hide behind our screens. There is something powerful about physical touch, and we see Jesus interacting and physically reaching out to touch people over and over in the gospels. We are called to follow Jesus and mimic the way he engaged with people. I am not arguing that Jesus wouldn't be on social media today, but I am arguing that Jesus would not have replaced flesh and blood relationships with the digital world and online relationships. He would have been more about real relationships and less about making online connections and networking.

Have you noticed that the online world happens at breakneck speed? We feel like we have to keep up with every email, text, private message, instagram, notification, tweet, blog post, etc. We have so many different inboxes it makes our heads spin. There is so much swirling at us, and we are on high alert fearing missing something. These relationships are turbo-boosted and spastic, and many of them are fake. We think we know people, but we are seldom given more than a one-dimensional peak into their life and who they are. When we get together with friends in person it is slower, richer, and more gratifying. We don't have to keep up - we can just be. Online we are spreading ourselves so thin, because somewhere inside of us we long for relationships, and maybe we believe more online connections are better and make us better. But what if so many of these relationships are superficial, because they lack the warmth and the flesh and blood of physically being together? What if they have lulled us into something less than we were created for? What if we have this all wrong? What if we are wading through the world of shallow?

I realize this is not always the case. Some of my now dearest friends were first introduced to me digitally. But in most of these cases, we solidified the relationship when we had the chance to interact in person, and our online relationship turned into true flesh and blood friendship. The dynamic on human interactions has shifted, and there is room for this digital world inside of our world. But it cannot come at the expense of living breathing relationships. Maybe it should be less about networking and more about core, authentic relationships.

When I was riding that subway car, I looked around and was so saddened by what I saw - so many people - so many stories living inside those living, breathing bodies, and yet, each of us was alone in a crowd. Most everyone was somewhere else, unengaged, and had hidden themselves in technology. We were alone together. There wasn't any eye contact, no nod good morning, or gentle smile. Rather there was a group of isolated people with their heads down buried in a private world. I thought about my children, and I realized that this was the only world that they knew. This would be normal to them. I cannot change that, but in my own home we can create sacred spaces and foster living, breathing relationships. So we remove technology from meal times, and we shut it down at certain times in the evening. We follow some basic rules, and we celebrate engaging people physically. We teach the value of deep conversation rather than sacrificing it for online connection.We try not to let technology pervade every moment. And it is a constant battle. I may not own a smartphone, but I can be just as distracted with a laptop.  It is being intentional everyday with the time gifted to me, and modeling for my children healthy relationships. I have a teenager who loves technology, which is not abnormal, but finding the balance and not letting it consume him or captivate his heart is tricky. I have to be the example. For an introvert, the digital world can be much more appealing and much more safe feeling than anything real, but flesh and blood relationships are rich. They are sometimes messy and sometimes demanding, but there is no replacing the human element. We were created for it. We were created to unplug and share face-to-face time rather than just Face-Time.

What are your thoughts on this digital world we live in? How does it impact your family? What sacred spaces are you fostering outside of technology?


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