culture

If We’re More Connected Than Ever, Why Are We So Lonely?

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I hate notifications. Which makes me hate my smartphone. Which makes me long for the days of my Motorola Razr, but alas, we are an incredibly connected society.

We “like” one another’s pictures of our kids, our coffee cups and our devotional reading (always with a nice Valencia filter) on Instagram. We argue ideas and post ridiculous memes on Facebook. We retweet one another and send the occasional message on Voxer. Texting has become so common and accepted that there are no longer boundaries on the appropriate times of day to text. Most people even expect you to reply to their text within a matter of seconds. I’ve spoken with multiple people who suffer mild anxiety over the seemingly long time intervals between exchanged texts (which, let’s be honest, are now mostly emojis or gifs) with a friend or significant other. When I began dating my wife, we both had flip-phones. It took what felt like an hour to pound out a 3-4 word text on those things. So, I felt no stress if she did not text me back immediately because I knew she was likely texting me the whole time.

My point is that we’ve never experienced this level of connectivity in human history, and yet we are increasingly lonely.

All humans need and even crave what only the church can provide: True community.

Digital Connection, Relational Loneliness

Recently, I read a BBC article that documented the rise of loneliness across all generational lines but noted its marked presence among the youngest and most social media savvy generation: 16-24 year olds. How is it possible that in a social media driven world we are somehow less “social?”

If you observe the societal landscape, especially in public, most people are staring at their phones instead of engaging with other humans. Rather than giving attention to what the people in front of us are saying or doing, we are far too consumed with what other people are saying and doing on social media. It is bizarre. The purpose of social media (supposedly) is to increase human connectivity. Instead, it has the opposite affect. Our interaction with our screens is inherently lonely because it is not accomplished in community.

Additionally, social media perpetuates human deception which makes living in meaningful relationship nearly impossible. Think about it: How honest are people on social media? Not very! We only post our wins, our victories, our happy moments and our best pictures. We do not offer our true selves on social media, but we put forth a sanitized version of reality.

Moreover, our connectivity fosters human pride (another relationship killer). For example, when you find yourself tagged in a group picture, who do you look at first? Your friends or your family? No, you look at the person you love most: You! If you look good, its a great picture and you leave the tag in place. If you look bad, even if everyone else looks great, you untag the picture because it is a bad picture. Let me clue you in on something, the way you look in pictures where you are not smiling, you aren’t posed or looking directly at the camera, nor are you sucking in your stomach, that’s how you really look. And people love you anyway. Yet, our pride causes us to not only curate the sanitized versions of our online persona but to believe that the myth is reality.

All of this drives us away from a biblical concept of community and instead pushes us toward uniformity: Where we all like the same things, have the same interests and celebrate the same things.

Reclaiming Relationships

So, what do we do? Well, we’ve got to reclaim the biblical concept of the imago dei, the image of God present in humanity. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us,

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.  So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.’

Theologians have written mountains of material explaining all the nuances of what it means to be created in the image of God, but one of the clearest explanations is that we were created for community by an inherently relational being. There is one God, and that one God is eternally three persons, a perfect community of relationships. Each person of the Godhead is equal in deity, attributes, etc. However, they are distinct in their relational interactions. The Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Spirit.

We were made for relationship with this triune God and with one another. As result, our relationships with one another are inherently dynamic. In other words, they do not breed sameness but instead there is an ebb and flow of ideas, interests, hopes, fears and gifting. We equally bear the image of God and yet we are relationally distinct. Many of my friends are very different from me. Some of them are hunters; I prefer to hunt in the meat aisle of my local Harris Teeter. Some of them are motor heads; I get my oil changed at Walmart. One of my friends is even a Hollywood stuntman; I don’t like climbing up anything higher than a stepladder. Yet, each of their friendships are gifts that push back against loneliness. Each of these relationships make me more truly human than I would be without them.

Created for Community

You and I were not created for loneliness but for community. A purely digital existence provides a form of community, but it will ultimately turn into a community typified by a pursuit for uniformity, which is not true community. Biblical community is distinguished by shared, personal experiences (Acts 2:42-47), selfless acts of love (the throwing off of pride) and genuine diversity (Ephesians 2-3). This kind of community can only be found in the church.

In short, all humans need and even crave what only the church can provide: True community. Our hyper-connected world has not aided our pursuit of living out the relational aspects of the imago dei. Instead, it has supplied us a faux experience that leaves our longings and cravings unfulfilled.

Spend less time pursuing connectivity in the digital world and more time living in community in the real world. After all, a denial of our need for true community is a denial of our full humanity.

Image Credit: Clem Onojeghuo / Unsplash

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Dayton Hartman

Dayton Hartman is lead pastor at Redeemer Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He has a PhD in church and dogma history from North-West University (South Africa), and serves as an adjunct professor at both Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Columbia International University. He is the author of Church History for Modern Ministry: Why Our Past Matters for Everything We Do. Learn more at daytonhartman.com.

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