Within two decades, we’ve gone from phone calls to emails, to texts, to emojis. As Sullivan writes: “We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook ‘friend,’ an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction.”
And that’s when we aren’t being nasty to one another. In his two-part BreakPoint article (which I encourage you to read at BreakPoint.org), Shane documents how the Web’s “dis-inhibitory effect” has brought out the worst in so many people: It’s altered our concept of sexuality and human intimacy; it has virtually destroyed journalism; and — as you can see if you dare to read comments online — it has made us meaner, crazier, and more paranoid.
But most of all the noise of “living in the web” keeps us from seeing and hearing what’s good for our souls. Christians, more than anyone else, should know this. Consider Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 4: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” Does the time spent on line help us consider these things?
Jesus lived in a time that was, compared to ours, a still-life painting. And yet even then, he felt the need to regularly withdraw from the noise and distractions of his times. I doubt that any of us, starting with me, could last five minutes in the quietness of first-century Palestine.
What Sullivan and Morris help us understand is that modern telecommunications technology is not “morally neutral.” It comes with a definition of what it means to be human that’s at root inhumane.
The question is: how badly do we want to be human? And will we unplug to pursue it?