A Future of Isolated Connectivity and Connected Isolation?

Welcome back.

In keeping with the theme of my last post (Nov 18), Unto us a Machine is Born, as well as my prior post (Oct 16), Is Blogging a Revolution? , here’s an article from the education page of Newsweek about the world of teenage Homo Electronicus Migratus called High Tech Hotspots . The italics in the quoted text below are my addition.

“The most wired students in the history of the world…are going off to college. Today’s entering freshmen created PowerPoint presentations in middle school, if not before—and yet may have never “dialed” a telephone. They grew up digital: with PCs, broadband and cell phones at the ready. Likelier to reach for Google than for a dictionary, they live-journal their days and photoblog their snaps, trade music and swim in a sea of messages—e-mail, instant messaging and text. Some of their parents may not even know what verbs like live-journal and IM mean. “Students are so tied in to computing and networking that it’s almost like an extension of their central nervous system,” says Garland Elmore, a professor of informatics and communications at Indiana University. “It’s how they connect to their friends, it’s how they connect to information—it’s how they connect to their world.”

Here’s my question: is this the most connected generation in history or the most disconnected?

George Will writes in an article titled Rudeness rewarded that we are “entertaining ourselves into inanition” –a state or quality of being empty. Because of our addiction to electronic connectedness, we are not present before others even in their presence, he suggests.

“With everyone chatting on cell phones when not floating in iPod-land, “this is an age of social autism, in which people just can’t see the value of imagining their impact on others.” We are entertaining ourselves into inanition. (There are Web sites for people with Internet addiction. Think about that.) And multiplying technologies of portable entertainments will enable “limitless self-absorption,” which will make people solipsistic, inconsiderate and antisocial. Hence manners are becoming unmannerly in this “age of lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence.”

I get what Will is talking about. I hate it when I’m talking to someone who then answers a call on his cell. I’m tempted to pull out my cell and call them on the spot. A paradox of life in the 21st century is that we live in an age of isolated connectivity or connected isloation. The person in front of us is less critical than the person beamed into our present reality via satellite.

The aim of “into the mystic…” is to make whatever world we travel more human. We take seriously and exploit the possiblities of the cyber world of relationships, but also take seriously the physicality of human kind. Yes, manners matter. Perhaps part of the etiquette of the 21st century is that all things being equal the f2f encounter is as important [or more] as the electronic one.

Thanks to Michael Martin of Australia and to Jaime Puente of Texas for the articles.

What do you think?

into the mystic…

Alex McManus

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37 thoughts on “A Future of Isolated Connectivity and Connected Isolation?

  1. I guess I fall into the category of the technology age. I taught all of my superiors how to use Microsoft Office. I programmed the phone systems of every job I worked at. I talked to family across the country every day by way of instant messaging, from my cousin serving in Iraq, to grandparents, to mom and dad.

    We show Max’s dr’s programs that would make their MRI images easier to view. When we were in the hospital with Max last November for a month we hooked up a video camera in the PICU so family could watch him all day and pray for him.

    I do think in this realm…but I do also know how to relate to people f2f. And blogging has just opened up a whole other avenue for the way I interact in the world.

    And for those who still would argue that this tech world can bring no sort of community, in the past 7 years I haven’t felt so connected to community as I have in the past 10 months of blogging…or the past two years of not being able to travel with our son, to have the internet as a way of reaching the outside world.

    Hope you guys have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  2. I echo much of what Deana writes, especially being connected in new ways and seeing my relationships expand in new ways…

    Funny, I was talking (arguing?) about this very issue a couple of nights ago with one blog-reader and one non-blogger and we all had different perspectives about this…the fear of disconnectedness, the excitement of new connectedness…the possibilities for building God’s kingdom…

    We MUST be aware of what we say to people with how we interacted (or not)…even now as I type this out on my wireless laptop, watching the Macy’s T-day parade, sitting next to my two-year-old…sort of funny…logging out now to interact…!?!

    Happy Turket day to all!!

  3. I think we all agree this new cyber world opens up amazing new dimensions of community. Yet f2f must not be neglected and there is no excuse for bad manners in either context. I think this is a challenge for those of us who are parents, I think we need to encourage the digital part of their lives but also teach them how to interact with real people. In my experience it might take more training to know how to get on with people f2f than over broadband.

  4. Everything is about relationship. The internet is a powerful thing and can be used to tear down relationship and also to build it up. It angers me when people make blanket statements such as, “Blogging is escaping from reality.” One could escape reality through blogging or one could avoid reality by refusing to blog. Intention is everything, and who am I to decide YOUR intent?

  5. I don’t think online reality is creating exciting new ways for humanity to be broken and messy… the existing brokeness and messiness intrinsic to humanity is just moving into these new arenas and being expressed digitally. Looks different, smells the same.

    I think the flipside is also true in terms of positive and healthy relational connectedness. Send your servant across the desert with a verbal message… send a letter on a ship… send a telegraph…make a phone call…comment on a blog. It’s the speed not the need that’s different now.

    My experience of meeting Alex, Niza, Nic, Octavio, Lilia, etc f2f for the first time settled for me the credibility (and shed new light on the dynamic) of online connectedness. We met for the first time… but as friends. I hope we parted at the end of the day as better friends… having experienced and understood each other in the fresh and deeper way that f2f affords. I loved a comment Nic made about our experience of meeting each other… that our blog connectedness “turbocharges f2f relating rather than replacing it”.

    But I suspect that sporadic, occasional or one-time f2f experiences would never translate to “best” friends without the delving into each others daily lives that proximity enables. I would hold most dear the friends that I could sit in a room with for an afternoon and not feel awkward about not saying anything…just enjoying each others presence.

    I submit that you can’t experience that online. Not really. The moment that blog post or chat comment or MSN message is being communicated… the globe shrinks to earshot and heartbeat distance at the speed of light. But online pause, hesitation, (what’s the digital equivalent of “dead air”? …”dead wire”?) and “be right back” cause that gulf and distance to instantly widen again and you are now only sitting in the presence of your computer… not the person you were just connected to.

    I love what Lindsay said about how “one could avoid reality by refusing to blog”. A very scary concept for those watching fearfully from the wrong side of the online divide. I feel great compassion for these new digital Dalits created by a 21st century caste system that sprang up seemingly overnight in their eyes. Will this become the new definition of cross-cultural mission that has nothing to do with geography?

  6. So could valuing f2f interactions over virtual interatioins be a core conviction of Voxtropolis? Something like “we believe that mystic manifestations are to be honored and valued as an essential part of community building” I don’t know…something in the midst of our virtual Vox drive that says something about the role of human interaction on a physical level…

  7. I have recently began officing out of a local coffee shop. The coffee is okay. The music gets a C+. There are other Christ followers who come in, sit down, boot up and plug in their headphones. I fight that temptation. My whole reason for officing out of Aroma’s is so that I can meet people and be active in their lives. The guy slumped over his computer with his head phones on sends a picture of “stay away.” Sometimes I just sit, pray, and listen. Isn’t it funny that we now have to be intentional to have interpersonal interaction? As Christ followers, we must keep our heads up, and eyes and ears open. The best way for Christ to intersect the timelines of others is by our intervetion and obedience. Same as it ever was…

  8. I think that we want technology to become necessary to our lives. Most everything is easier with a computer there. However, it seem that since the computer is there the computer is where people starving for connection feel comfortable to try and connect. But it is not working, people are not connecting, and, like Alex mentioned, we are being drained of something very core to our souls.

    Simon

  9. Simon,

    I’m not sure that it is entirely true to say that “People are not connecting” through the computer. It’s tough to make a blanket statement like that.

    I have Christian friends who have met their spouses through online dating services, and have very happy and healthy marriages that started through “connecting” on the internet. Conversely, I also have found some of my existing friendships strengthened and developed through the opportunity to know what is going on “in peoples’ heads” by reading each others’ blogs.

    That said, it does offer the opportunity to “check out” of f2f interactions, so to speak. In both digital and f2f interactions, we must consciously seek to love, understand, and serve people.

  10. I agree Alex. I think technology is only distancing those who choose to let it distance them. For me I am attempting to use it to be moe connected though there is no substitute for face to face communication. However, when you are in China you begin to appreciate the value of connectedness through technology.

  11. Sorry I didnt finish my thoughts. Technology is amoral in my mind. It has the power for good and the power for evil. It can connect or distance us. As we move into the future we must claim what is good and press forward to advance it. I think connectedness is a good thing when we use it well (per my example of being in China).

  12. Is this the most connected generation in history or the most disconnected?

    There is little doubt that technology has given us the ability to connect with people that in the past we would never have dreamed meeting.

    While techonology allows us to connect with people, and stay connected with them, it does not allow for the real intimacy that we need to develop. So while we may have more contacts around the world than ever before I think a case could be made that we have fewer close relationships than ever. One of our challenges as Christ Followers is learning to use our connections to develop intimate relationships through which we have the biggest impact.

  13. Hey guys…hope your Thanksgiving was thankful. Just wanted to say a few things. I am a graduating senior at Georgia Tech, one of the most “wired” campuses in the country according to Newsweek. I walk the campus almost everyday and I see students from all over the world communicating with their loved ones in Zimbabwe, Taiwan, or Russia as they saunter to class. It’s really quite a beautiful thing….until you attempt to connect with them as you wait for the bus. An interesting thing happens. Eye contact, once painstakingly made, is returned with a look of sheer terror. The prospect of communicating face to face seems to scare them to death. It reminds me of myself in middle school, when I first noticed Brandy…the most beautiful girl in the county…and she noticed me! You know the feeling…”WhatdoIdo! WhatdoIdo! JustsmileDORK!” Somehow the smile turns into a “lookaway.” 🙂

    Anywho, I say all that to say this: For international students or for those of us who have loved ones or fellow followers thousands or even hundreds of miles away, digital and information technology is quite a blessing. However, I also pass on the sidewalk those who are communicating with friends just one block away…on their LAPTOPS!

    I think we must make the distinction between those with the necessity for digital information technology given their proximity or lack thereof to loved ones and those who “abuse” it simply to avoid the “complexities” of human interaction. In addition, those students I attempt to connect with at the bus stop or the library are terrified perhaps because they’ve failed to form relationships with those closest around them physically and cannot (I emphasize “unable”) see the value in the flesh and blood that sits next to them. They forsake the souls passing by for those “typing” by. I think most of us understand this but, we must be careful that we do not do the same.

    Technological connectedness is a beautiful thing…but so are people.

  14. Post script:

    I think that digital communication technology has the capability to “shrink” the world or to bring the world to our doorsteps…it will if it hasn’t already…it certainly has for the business world. However, I do not necessarily believe that it must simultaneously seperate mankind from itself in the physical realm. That part us up to us. We must not allow it.

  15. I think that 2f2 is more important… not that God can’t use the online relationships. But intimacy is key to any kind of meaningful relationships whether it be with God, your wife, a friend, etc… And I believe taht this is the purpose of life that is to have a meaningful relationship with the living God of the universe and to have meaningful relationships with your neighbors. Online communities can help facilitate this, but I don’t think that they can ever replace this.

    Many may read this response with “duh everybody knows that!” But I think that it is very important to to keep this at the forefront of our hearts as we proceed with online communities and ministries

    Blessings,

    Scott

  16. So, like Josh, we had a community dinner last night, and for fun we all sat at the large kitchen table we share in front of our laptops. I can’t say that I felt disconnected per se… We felt strangely more unified doing the same thing together…

  17. lori,

    that’s just sick. 😉

    hi, alex.

    thanks for posting on this. i happen to be an introvert who loves writing (infp or infj, depending on the situation). and i’ve found it easy (well, to an extent) to pour out my heart online and then difficult to open up at times when opportunities for f2f interactions arise. with a few very rare exceptions (usually with a few trusted girlfriends), the topics i write about or comment about don’t really surface in f2f conversations, though the majority of people reading my blog and whose blogs i read are people with whom i have regular f2f interactions. i’m increasingly uncomfortable with that. i don’t want to have to go to a website to know what’s going on in the head of someone i see every weekend (or more often than that in some cases). and i don’t want my blog to be the primary way my offline friends see my heart. i’d much rather just grab coffee or call someone or something. i’m trying to be a bit more intentional about really connecting during f2f or over-phone (when f2f isn’t regularly possible due to distance) interactions.

    that said, i don’t know if online activity is an indicator that this generation is less connected than previous ones. there are so many churches and groups where people aren’t real with each other. it’s hard to say you’re connected with someone in a meaningful way if you’re hiding. i don’t think it’s a generational thing, but a human brokenness thing.

  18. Greg,

    INFP and INFJ are Myers-Briggs personality types. The Myers-Briggs measure four different traits, with a spectrum for each and a letter at each end of each spectrum, with 16 possible outcomes, or personality types. Scientifically they are pretty unsound, but for people who identify with one or more of them they can be useful descriptors.

    The possibilities are as follows:
    Extroversion-Introversion
    Sensing-iNtuition
    Thinking-Feeling
    Judging-Perceiving

    Thus, an INFP= introverted, intuition, feeling, perceiving.

    Interested? Check it out:
    http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm

  19. Candyce,

    Wow, that really rings true for me. I am an INFP, too so maybe that’s why.

    I have struggled with the dilemma you mention, too. Sometimes it is almost like I have this second, secret personality, known only to those in the blogosphere. I don’t know whether I should be bothered by it or not.

    I do know that before I started blogging, I rarely talked to anyone about some of the stuff I write about on my blog. My friend Amber once told me that I am a “secret thinker;” that there is a lot that goes on beneath the surface that doesn’t make any waves up top. So maybe, it is not so much that I interact with my friends f2f less, but more that I have an outlet to interact with people on a level I did not previously have– or at least, was hesitant to make use of.

    I think it primarily has to do with rejection. If I say something to somebody in person, I take a risk. They could look at me like I am crazy. They could tell me I’m silly or weird. Online, the people who don’t care about what I have to say probably won’t comment and bash me; they’ll just surf over to somebody else’s blog. We only make the effort to comment on what interests us and/or resonates with us. And the people who do like it have time to process what I’ve said and give a better, more thoughtful response.

    Maybe it’s a mixed blessing?

  20. Candyce and Mel- Cincy girls represent! Who else’s blog can we overwhelm?! 😉 I seriously love that I can talk to and hear from my friends everyday by blogging. I love that through blogging my sweet friend Candyce who is way INFP can really share what is on her heart… This method of interaction must be every introvert’s dream…

  21. More: As I pondered that, I realized how wierd my wife thinks I am to blog and read and respond and interact…then I realized: SHE’S an entj; almost my polar opposite!

    She much perfers f2f and the dynamic of thinking on her toes; I HATE (truly have a large dislike) of “thinking on my toes” and, in fact, am horrible at it.

    This forum allows me to form thoughts and ideas as I read and reflect, then respond accordingly…interesting. I’m also the type that thinks while I talk (write)–notice all the dots; even as I do this…the process of writing helps me to clarify and bring ideas to a better conclusion.

  22. I guess I’m a freak. I’m an ETNP, and love to blog, browse, and get on boards like this. However, I do this from my local coffee shop where I’m having f2f constantly. In the last 24 hours I’ve met 5 new people who are not Christ-followers. My interaction on the web and boards has sharpened my conversational capabilities, and helped me to really use words clearly. The funny thing is that I had an f2f yesterday, blogged about it, then spoke again with the lady that I’d blogged about. I shared with her that I’d blogged about our conversation. As a result, she copied my blog posting onto her community events calendar page’s faith and inspiration page. I received thre e-mails this morning of other who have read it, linked to it, and are finding it because of her. The blogging and f2f went hand-in-hand to build a great bridge and build a relationship!

  23. lori,

    can’t speak for all introverts out there, but i know that for me, blogging doesn’t bring the sort of relational fulfillment i dream of. i dream of the day where i can be as boldly open with and known by other people offline as i am online (and truth be told, there’s stuff, very important stuff, that i would never dream of posting about because of the public nature of blogging–you know me well enough to know the kinds of stuff i speak of). i think blogging may have filled a role in exposing a need for growth there, but it’s still an area where i strongly desire to grow… hmm, good food for thought. 🙂

  24. I see a lot of this in puiblic places. One day I was on the beach making a sculpture, and a couple walked past. One of them was talking on the cellular. I kept working. Some time later–half an hour? 45 minutes?–they returned, northbound, and the cell call was still going on.

    I saw a man on the bus one day carrying on two cell conversations at once. Loudly. Another day, a woman sat down beside me. She had the cellular in one ear, her Ipod in the other, and was talking to somebody. I could hear all three, and I was using earplugs to keep the cacaphony under control.

    You just can’t carry on a conversation with people any more, it seems. Face-to-face communication is subject at any time to being derailed by the cellular, assuming you can even get a few minutes with someone to start it.

    Communication has to be a heart-to-heart priority. It can happen face-to-face, phone calls, or many other ways. It just takes time, and we have so many things to do and so many gadgets to do them with that the time for real relationships isn’t there. Unless people say “No” to the distractions. Take the cell phone from your partner and throw it into the ocean.

  25. Is it the tool or the user that determines connectivity?

    From my viewpoint in the business world, we have allowed our executives to be connected at all times, but I find they are rarely present in the moment. The majority of them sit through meetings, reading and answering their e-mail instead of interacting with the people in the meeting.

    I was asked to conduct a workshop in the future for some of our salespeople. I told the person requesting that I would do it, but only if I could get the people face to face with their Treos turned off. Haven’t held the workshop yet.

    It’s certainly not that I dislike this new world, and I lament that I’ve finally reached that point where new technology doesn’t hold the same allure.

    Back to the topic sentence – I seem to have rambled – people who understand the value of relationships will use technology in a way that connects rather than disconnects. Those who don’t will use it to further separate themselves from the world.

  26. For all of you MBTI fans out there…I’ve found that every blogger I’ve met is exactly like his/her blog.

    Hats off to The Bishop. An excellent example of how this new world of connectivity can work.

  27. Here’s a way to use connectivity to our advantage!

    December 1st is World Aids Day. Please participate. It’s free, it’s fun, it only take about thirty seconds, and for every person who participates $1 will be donated to HIV/AIDS research.

    Light a “candle” now. Light to Unite

  28. When the Soviets invaded Lithuania, they took people from relatively isolated village communities and shacked them up in the massive apartment buildings. Despite the proximity, there was no greater time of isolation in Lithuania’s history. After independence, many people choose to still live in those apartment buildings, mostly for financial reason. But the spirit of the community is one of increasing openess. Is that generational or a cultural revolution? I think when we discuss “generations” we should really address culture. In my work or church culture I may have extreme connections. Yet in my neighborhood, I don’t even know my neighbor’s first name. Yet here I am electronically connecting to people thousand of kilometers away!

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