I have the bad tendency of avoiding people I know or recognize that I pass while walking through campus. Typically, I use my phone as a hiding place. It was bad when I had a normal flip phone and could only receive and send texts and make phone calls. But now it’s especially bad since I have a Blackberry. I mean, the phone is awesome and quite helpful and I doubt it’s the phone’s fault for providing me with something to hide behind (though sometimes I yell at it as if it were the cause). But it’s made me wonder if there’s something wrong with our usage of technology. All the iPods and various phones that can do about anything except turn into a light saber (I hope they’re close though) are great innovations for improving communication and making information more available and easier to attain. But they can draw us away from being personal.
Yesterday I sat down for coffee with a hometown friend and we talked a lot about religion and Jesus and America and how different they are from one another. One of the things we talked about was how quick we are to stick to our own individual selves, where we pretend to be texting a friend or changing a song on our iPods when we see someone we don’t necessarily want to talk to. It’s not like we should stop and talk for hours on end with each person we see, but at the very least I think it wouldn’t hurt anyone to just say “Hello.”
The more I read through the Scriptures, I can’t help but realize how personal Jesus was during His ministry. He ate dinner with all kinds of people and would probably see hundreds of people He had met or healed on a daily basis. Though there aren’t many instances where we see it in Scripture, I have to believe that He would at least say “Hello” to the people He recognized, and mean it. He couldn’t bust out His Blackberry or His iPhone at the last second and check His fantasy baseball stats just because He wanted to avoid talking to a former leper or another Pharisee; He wanted to talk to people, face to face.
My hometown friend and I tried to imagine what the Apostles would think of us if they could somehow jump forward in time to 2010. Peter would probably pee his loincloth at the mere sight of a bus; Paul might say, “I wish I had this” when he’d learn about emails; and John might think to himself, “Um…This is totally not what was revealed to me.” The life that they were used to back then, the seemingly “primitive” lifestyle, has almost completely evaporated in America (don’t forget the Amish paradise). And I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but I do think there are limitations to how much time we spend watching TV, browsing Facebook because we’re bored, or zoned out to our music.
I say all this while listening to “Slow Ride” on my iTunes and checking the various status updates on Facebook from my phone. It isn’t easy to disconnect and it’s especially not necessary to disconnect entirely. But there has to be a balance. How else would we show people who Jesus is? By changing our status to some doctrinal statement and using a Bible verse to back it up? By writing on peoples’ walls “Jesus loves you!” but not showing it through our actions? No, I think the Bible is pretty clear on how to reveal Jesus: in person.
Donald Miller says that the greatest trick of the Devil is to get us into some kind of spiritual stagnation where we’re disengaged from God (and subsequently each other). Sure, Don was talking about rituals and mindless habits, but I think it’s easily applicable to our dependence on technology. There are many great tools that can be very helpful for many things; I would hate to have to write out the almost 500 pages of my journal by hand. My life would be miserable. But when it comes to the point where we would rather spend our free time playing online games or watching TV episodes aired on the internet or browsing the web for odd things like how to make ants explode instead of meeting up with others for coffee, lunch, dinner, a brew, or just to hang out, I think we miss out on something Jesus wants to enjoy: people.
There is no doubt in my mind that we could use movies, TV shows, or YouTube videos with exploding ants to bring some people together, and that’s good. But we could also do those very same things without being glued to technology. It seems to me that if TV and internet were to stop for just a day, people might lose their minds. We’ve become so familiar with the technological world that we’ve almost forgotten how to function around regular human beings.
Last night I was hanging out at Starbucks just reading. The girls at the table next to me were talking about one of the girls’ boyfriends and how they were having a fight. From the bits and pieces of what I overheard, I thought the boyfriend just didn’t want to talk to her. But when I glanced over, the girlfriend was texting the boyfriend; they were having a fight via text messages. Instead of calling each other and talking as regular human beings, and not having the ability to edit what we say, they were using technology to sort of hide themselves. The girl would ask her friend what she should say instead of just saying it. And when I put my books away to walk back to my car, I suddenly thought of how much I do that.
Text messaging is fun and sometimes convenient, like when you’re in the library (or at church…I know…I’m evil), but we sometimes get carried away with it and end up only depriving ourselves of an enjoyable experience. Jesus was relationally relevant not just because He taught about God and living out the commandment of love, but because He lived it as well. He met people where they were at instead of sending letters to them or smoke signals (hey, He was God; it could have happened). He knocked on peoples’ doors, asked if He could join them for a meal, and shared the gospel by merely being there. I’m just as guilty as anybody in leaning heavily upon my cell phone or my computer to communicate. But that’s just it; I’ve been down that road and know that it isn’t all of what it’s cracked up to be. Cell phones and computers are awesome and helpful, but they aren’t fulfilling. My pain, joy, anger, sorrow, peace, and turmoil is all felt much more deeply when I’m pouring out my heart in person than through an email or a text. And I feel all these emotions more deeply when my friends share it in person as well.
The main thing I’m getting at through all this is we were made to be relationally relevant to our culture and society. Sometimes that means knowing how to operate with the technological world, yes, but I think most of the time Jesus wants us to be able to operate as humans around other humans. Oftentimes it’s tough, uncomfortable, and maybe even a little fearful. But at the end of the day, when I’ve shared my heart with somebody face to face, I feel much more alive, much more real. And in hindsight, opening my heart more and more to people makes it so much easier to open my heart to God. Relationships are just flat out healthy for the soul.