Technology and Loneliness within the West
With the vast advances in social technology enabling us to seamlessly communicate and transmit information among one another, it seems logical to surmise that this degree of interconnectedness would in fact do that which it intends, namely connect us better. Specifically, connecting us better in such a way that we can develop fuller relationships in light of virtually constant, uninterrupted communication despite geographical boundaries which has encumbered us in the past. However, it dismays me to assert that this way of thinking is further from the truth than many are inclined to admit. In an article authored by Rebecca Harris’ called, The Loneliness Epidemic: We’re more Connected than Ever-But We are Feeling More Alone?, she states the following:
“Changes in modern society are considered to be the cause[of loneliness]. We live in nuclear family units, often living large distances away from our extended family and friends, and our growing reliance on social technology rather than face to face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated”
It seems paradoxical to postulate that loneliness is one of the byproducts of social technology, however. Merely pondering the truly profound capabilities which social technology makes possible to practically anyone at their finger-tips is enough to baffle anyone. Yet, within our Western Culture today, where technology is ever-advancing, there is this distinct preponderance of loneliness and deep feelings of ensuing social alienation. In the same article, Harris notes “…that recent research indicates that this[loneliness] may be the the next biggest public health issue on par with obesity and substance abuse”. The seriousness of this issue should not come across as any kind of surprise taking into consideration the prominence of mental illness within the West.
CS Lewis once famously said,
“There is something which unites magic and applied science (technology) while separating them from the “wisdom” of earlier ages. For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.”
Today, it would seem that technology, specifically social technology, acts as this means by which modern man seeks to build relationships serving as a sort of cheap, ineffective substitute for that which face-to-face interaction can only provide.
From the beginning of time, even before the fall of humanity, God created us as relational beings. In Genesis 2:18, the Lord said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. We are designed specially by God in His image and likeness to love and to be loved by one another. Repeatedly throughout the New Testament, the importance of fellowship and community is underscored particularly within the life and ministry of Jesus and Paul throughout the days of the early church.
The author of Hebrews instructs us as believers to do the following:
“…consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching”(Hebrews 10:24-25).
As broken and sin-bent humans so prone to stray, we need one another and we cannot win this good fight of faith alone. After humbly receiving God’s glorious gift of salvation and being reconciled with Him, our horizontal relationships are integral to our walk of faith. The Gospel is the ultimate and supreme antidote for this loneliness which plagues our already-fractured lives.
I am going to digress a little here, but I will bring this to full circle afterwards. Prominent speaker and apologist, Ravi Zacharias, shares that in a recent study in the educational system, an alarming two-thirds of teenagers are unteachable (not because of their mental inabilities) but because they are so preoccupied with fears and struggles in their personal lives. He continues by asserting that there is a clue to a meaning of life found in relationships. From an observational standpoint, you would need to be blind to not see the mass-confusion and wrongheadedness which permeates the minds of the youth today. I suppose this is what happens when we are living in an age where post-modernism reigns supreme within most educational institutions and moral relativism only propels this confusion all the more. Zacharias notably says that, “The ultimate test of any civilization is what we do with our children. I’m afraid we would fail the minimal test of civility in this regard”.
The Solution is the Gospel
What God has accomplished for us on the Cross is far more than we could possibly fathom. Jesus willingly accepted the death and punishment which we deserved in order that we may receive perfect reconciliation with God and be adopted into His family. The Cross is what liberates us from the bondage which every sin has over our lives. While I certainly recognize the benefits and advantages that social technology provides, it is insufficient to fill the relational longings which our human-hearts hunger to have filled. The human condition has always been the same since the Fall, despite the popularly-held belief that we have somehow evolved beyond needing forgiveness and/or salvation from our sins. To this day, we still love to run from God and seek enchantment after enchantment earnestly hoping that this will provide the fulfillment which our hearts desperately want to be filled. In a similar vein, Ravi Zacharias states, “The loneliest moment in life is when you’ve just experienced that which you think will deliver the ultimate and it has let you down”. What a strikingly true and sobering statement to describe all of us until we come to the remarkable realization that Christ Alone is big enough to fill this emptiness which our hearts yearn to have filled.
May we all remember that it You Alone are sufficient to satisfy our soul’s deepest desires and that apart from You everything is meaningless. I pray as a Church we can openly welcome everybody, particularly those who feel socially-isolated. Keep us firm in our faith and to recognize the intrinsic worth in the richness provided from actual, face-to-face communities of faith. Please continue to guide us as we seek to minister to not only the physical needs of the homeless but also to the spiritual needs which only the work of Your Spirit can accomplish. In Jesus’ Name, I pray, Amen.