Have you noticed that people are no longer talking? Sure, there is plenty of chat in shops and restaurants, but how often do you phone someone? If you’re over 40 you probably haven’t changed your habits, but I suspect that if you are under 40 there has been a change.
I’m reading Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, a book whose subtitle is ‘Why we expect more from technology and less from each other”. In it she explores how technology is changing us and how we interact with each other.
One aspect she writes about is the growing distaste for the talking over the phone, and a preference for texting; of how using the phone is often seen as an intrusion on people.
Turkle quotes a sixteen-year-old who won’t use the phone: “When you text, you have more time to think about what you’re writing… On the telephone, too much might show.” Another says, he might, not now, but sometime soon, “force himself” to talk on the phone. “It might be a way to teach yourself to have a conversation . For later in life, I’ll need to learn how to have a conversation…”
She tells of a daughter being picked up from school by her mother whose head is deep in her phone. All she wants is for her mum to notice her, but that doesn’t happen. “It gets between us, it’s hopeless… Like it could be four days since we spoke…”
Two friends meet up for lunch, arranged by email, because one of them always arranges by email. The other’s sister had died suddenly and as she informed her friend over lunch, the friend was distraught. “Why didn’t you tell me, in all our emailing?” “It didn’t seem like something to put in an email.” The one who had arranged the dinner was left thinking “If only I have rung her to arrange to meet, I would have heard something in her voice, I could have drawn her out…”
I find all of this sad. For all our communication technology we are becoming less communicative. We are retrograding. In a bygone age they used short terse telegrams. Messages were cut down to be as brief as possible. Meanings were often mangled because of brevity. Difficult news smashed in on people without the comfort of a human voice. Then the telephone brought closeness over distance. And now we are back to sending telegrams again. Toneless terseness—devoid of a human touch.
Yes, messages are great for organising to meet up or to get a quick answer. But real problems need real people really interacting. Never mind real problems, real life needs real people to interact.
We were made to be face-to-face creatures. We are the possessors of a marvellous faculty—the power of speech. Its very tone conveys a vast array of meaning and emotion. We thrive when talked to. That’s because we are made in the image of a speaking God who exists in community (the Trinity). He spoke the world into being, he spoke with his people, he still speaks through his word, which although written is living and powerful.
In a new forward to her book Turkle writes:
“Since this book’s publication in 2011, the trend line has been clear: we are more distracted in each other’s company, and we know it. Recent surveys report that 89 percent of Americans say they interrupted their last social interaction to turn to their phones, and 82 percent say that the conversation suffered for it… Studies show that if two people are having lunch, a cell phone at the table steers the conversation to lighter subjects, and each party feels less invested in the other. It’s not surprising. Each person in the conversation knows that with a phone on the landscape, you can be interrupted at any time.”
We dehumanise as we distance ourselves from each other, depriving them and us of voice. Is it any wonder people are lonelier than ever?
As Christians we must be different. We must be people who honour those made in the image of God, by speaking, listening and giving full attention just as our God does to us. If even having the phone on the table gives the wrong signal, let’s leave them aside. If having it buzz leaves us itching to look, lets practice turning them off, or leaving them in the car when we meet people.
In a world of dying conversation and disconnectedness, the church has something glorious to give (as well as the gospel!)—fellowship. Let’s make sure our churches are places not just of vertical connectedness, but of horizontal connectedness too, where real conversations are had, and real listening takes place.
“It doesn’t have to be like this
All we need to do is make sure we keep talking”*
David Murray linked to this video a few weeks back on his blog, but I’ll leave it with you to ponder. Ponder the prophetic appropriateness of the lyrics. Ponder the contrast between the two parts of the video.
Not simply our homes on Sabbath, but our churches should look and be different from other places where people gather.
*Pink Floyd “Keep Talking”