Internet musings

 

We live in a strange and paradoxical age. The digital world has opened up possibilities of which we couldn’t have even dreamed a couple of generations ago. Suddenly we are able to look at and virtually participate in the lives of people who may live on the other side of the globe. We are invited into an intimacy with acquaintances and even complete strangers that would never have been possible, without Instagram and Facebook, to see into corners of their lives which would only have been seen previously by a privileged few. The internet has allowed us to reconnect with people who, to us, were long lost. On another level it has led to superficiality and the breakdown of relationships. There are so many ways to communicate now, that we are almost paralysed by the number of possibilities and the list is still growing. As the opportunities for staying in touch have increased, our actual communication seems to have decreased. We are stimulated on every side and on every possible level and everywhere we go by internet ideas. We are so overwhelmed by all the possibilities that we are immobilised by them and can only stand and stare and regret wasted hours. There are virtually no boundaries to the internet’s reach and influence now, many of us even sleeping with our mobile devices and staying connected night and day. Like air, the internet surrounds us, wherever we go. The truth is that we are afraid to disconnect from our social networks because we are afraid of missing something vitally important. There’s even a newly coined word for it – FOMO, fear of missing out. We read, hear and see so much on our phones and other devices and our minds become clogged with an amount of information that nobody had to process in a pre-internet world. As we are blasted with information on every side, we learn to focus on …NOTHING, and to live distracted lives. Those of us with Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest find ourselves scanning our notifications and news-feeds, with one glance taking in cute baby pictures, animal antics, easy crafts and quick meal ideas along with heart wrenching stories of human suffering and natural disasters – and what has it taught us? We have learnt to react with emoticons – bestowing a smile or a frown as we see fit and to communicate with tiny static face expressions because words no longer seem adequate or perhaps not worth the trouble. If we are not careful, emoticons become our way of relating to the world, and determine the extent of our emotional involvement. Do we  even discern the wide chasm between the trivial and the grave anymore? I am afraid we are losing our ability to respond appropriately to things which are truly serious or to be truly empathetic. Our phones have become our news stations, shopping lists, recipe books, research partners, televisions, health advisers, weather forecasters, meal planners, alarm clocks, running companions, and even our Bibles. We have become so dependent on our phones that we find ourselves scarcely able to breathe without their bidding. Our phones become the first things we touch in the morning and the last thing we touch at night. God forbid that we should actually leave our homes without them. We feel connected to the whole world by that little gadget in our pocket – and lost without it. The irony is that the more ways we have to connect with people, the less connected we actually feel and while collecting likes on our Facebook pages, we may actually be drowning in loneliness. We don’t see the faces of real friends in front of us because we don’t take the time to look up from our phones. We are indeed living in a strange age.dsc_0367_2

But before we write off social media and dismiss it as damaging and time-wasting, it would be good to ask ourselves why it is so extremely appealing to young and old alike. What is the basic drive in us which causes us en masse to give such wholehearted attention to social media. The common thread running through the social networking sites, with which many of us develop a love-hate relationship, is the basic human desire to connect, to enter into relationship, to love and be loved, a desire which God built into us and which in and of itself is good, reflecting that we are made in His image. Man was made for relationship and social media taps into this deep human need. It also abuses it.

But rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, there are a few things we need to bear in mind, when we consider social media. One of them is that it is here to stay. We would be very foolish to bury our heads in the sand and simply wish for it to go away. This is the world our young people are growing up in and we need to learn how to harness these new technologies for good, rather than trying to reverse the clock. This is the new reality for the vast majority of people in the western world. There are currently 3.2 billion internet users in the world. That is getting on for half of the world’s population. Mind-blowing! What potential – for good as well as for harm! We are not doing our children any favours if we simply try to shield them from it and live as if it doesn’t exist. On the other hand we do need to train them how to use it constructively, to be aware of its pitfalls and know how to handle them, and to become salt and light in in this very visible if virtual medium, just as we would wish to be salt and light in the workplace, the classroom and out on the street. We need to recognise our tendency to engage more easily in virtual relationships and virtual lives rather than in real ones, and to realise that ultimately they will be far less fulfilling.  We also need to be wary of the internet’s tendency to paint pictures of perfect lives, perfect relationships, friendships and marriage, to present us with an image of life, marriage, parenting, or friendships, which is highly desirable and yet unrelated to reality. We need to point this out and realise that it tends to make us dissatisfied with what we have and makes us covet something which isn’t really real. In order to stay balanced in the real relationships we have with our spouses, our children, our fellow believers, and our colleagues, we need to make sure that we are balancing our intake of the internet with a regular, focused look at God’s Word, allowing His Word to shape our picture of life, rather than cute Instagram photos and inspiring man-centred quotes. We need to make sure that we are daily practising the attitude of gratitude for each of God’s blessings. In order to do that we need to make a conscious decision to take time away from our phones, to give ourselves enough space for real time relationships and deliberately put our phone, laptop, and iPad aside for long enough to be able to really focus in on the reality which surrounds us. We need to be intentional about creating spaces where our phones and other screens will not follow and will not invade. In this, as in so many other things, we need to learn wisdom and balance in order to use the internet in ways, which are honouring to God and edifying to other people, and enhancing rather than deforming our all-important relationships. Above all, we need balance – neither turning a blind eye to the dangers of the internet, nor making ourselves obsolete and irrelevant to the younger generations by rejecting it wholesale. We need to be informed. And we need to educate ourselves for that to happen. Let’s ask our kids to teach us what they know. Because they already know far more than we realise.

To end on a lighthearted note here is a poem I wrote about seven years ago in honour of the Worldwide Web.

Enjoy!

Confessions of a Netaholic (or Ode to the Internet –how odious)

I hate the internet

So aptly named

As it draws me into its net

But I am to blame

As I watch each frame.

This is not a game,

Please pull the plug

On this visual drug.

Don’t let it suck

My life from me again.

The clock is ticking

But I’m still sticking

To fruitless browsing

Till my head is pounding.

It’s time for lunch

And we’re a hungry bunch

But I have a hunch

I’ll have no time to cook

Or read a good book

Cause the net has its hook

In me.

Turn it off and walk away.

If it’s a game you want to play:

Life is real and here and now

And far outstrips the virtual tricks

Of the internet show.

What draws you in

To the internet bin?

On-line friends,

Shopping, recipes, loose-ends

Or sterner stuff?

We’ve said enough. 

It’s simply time to make amends.

Stop your googling and your goggling

The time you’ve lost is mind-boggling.

Turn it off and walk away

Choose the game of life today

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It’s Spring – go for a nice long walk!

 

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