There’s no more us. That’s what’s been done. If you are over 30, you remember a time before smartphones, social media, infinite access to information, 24/7 connectivity and availability. This generation doesn’t know what that’s like – leaving home without a phone, not hearing about what’s happened in the world right away, not having an online presence.
There are whole groups of us whose only venue for feeling, expressing emotion, for community is online. There are people whose emotional outbursts online are the best they have available. They could theoretically have that kind of catharsis, or de facto counseling session with a real life person, but they don’t. I imagine that all it would take is the awareness and desire to have that same conversation in real life, it’s just so much easier. There’s so much less resistance. The smartphone has no choice but to listen. The screen fills the void, the silence, with something. They unload it on Twitter or Instagram or whatever is popular in the moment. The phone, laptop, whatever screen is the closest thing to a listening ear. Social media is standing in the vacuum of community gathering places, of relationship, and real human connection. It is the harder thing to talk to someone in real life about politics, it is easier to just blather on to the internet. It is much harder to listen to someone, it is all the easier to “like” a status update. I can give an effortless recognition of someone’s emotion to hundreds with a click. To do that face to face would take some real effort.
It’s no wonder that people have no outlet for their feelings, their fears, their good and bad days, for mourning.
How many social gatherings have you attended where the majority of people were on their phones? How many times have you seen someone be on their phone the majority of the time? Have you been in a situation where the phone wasn’t an option? Wasn’t the difference striking? Your eyes, your hands, your whole body and spirit are aligned in a different way.
Talking face to face with someone is wholly different than over the internet. Anyone who’s been in a text fight knows that things quickly de-escalate over the telephone. They get very civil when there is a human being in the same room across from you. It just changes the dynamic. And I would argue the dynamic has moved the other way very quickly.
We are ghosts to each other now. Known through digital memory. Never touched. Never really seen. I see the flaws, scars, freckles, and asymmetry of my friends when my eyes see them across space. In the fake, shallow world of social media, I get the mask version of people. The way they want to be seen. Not the real way, the way they are when they are present and alive. Ghosts are never really here or there. It’s this new reality where I can see a person at any given time and place through my phone, but they aren’t really there. Presence is dispersed in this weird new way, where someone’s voice can technically be felt around the world. Be aware of the cost of watering down our presence, and what this does to our relationships. I can begin or end a friendship with the click of a button. I can mute a human being. I can know everything about a person without ever physically meeting a person.
The spirit becoming flesh was an important reality in scripture. I think we have reduced both flesh and spirit in our world. The ghosts of ourselves are holding the space of community and relationship where we should be standing ourselves, in the flesh. We have rich traditions, ways and means to connect with each other, all of which are in grave danger of being destroyed. I believe technology has done this. We are separate, our communities have been atomized and individualized in a way that may not be reversible. The social expression online is so often a cry for help, a need for connection, a need for flesh and flesh and spirit and spirit to meet. We need each other, this digital way isn’t working, and we don’t have each other in it. I want “us” back, not these ghosts and the screens that contain them.