This blog holds more than 650 posts, I regularly look back for posts that new followers might have been missed in the early days. This post, updated to make it more current, was first published on November 19, 2012. It is still true!
We all need sacred spaces where we keep to ourselves and to the people close to us.” This statement by social scientist and psychologist, Sherry Turkel, on NPR is a lament about our increasing tendency to being always “on” and always “open” on social media.
Dr. Turkel went on to say that we are too busy communicating to think and that we have lost our ability to use our “editorial function.” That is: we type, we respond, we react before we even think. We post a thought or give an immediate response as if we have forgotten that before instant messaging, Facebook, and twitter, we had time to gather our thoughts and make judgments about whether they were worth sharing or even safe to share. As I listened, I stood up and cheered! Well, not really, but mentally I gave her a high-five.
How did we get to this place? Why have silence and solitude become foreign to us? Why do we have to create a soul-training exercise to make ourselves practice times of quiet and aloneness? Can you imagine anyone taking a two-year sabbatical in the woods alone the way Henry David Thoreau did? (Or two days, for that matter) Why do we panic to the point of rudeness if we can’t answer a text or an e-mail instantly?
I have seen mothers walking with their children but totally ignoring them because they are engrossed with their cell phones. Couples and teens in groups sit side by side – texting. People walk into the paths of cars and bang into people and objects because their heads are down and their eyes are on the ground.
What would Jesus say to all of this, I wonder. What would the Rabbi who pulled children onto his lap say to parents who don’t even notice their children because they are texting. What would the Healer, who stopped along the road to ask people what they need, say to us who blissfully ignore all human contact as we walk down a sidewalk. What would the One who taught us the most about relating to people say to Christ-followers who prefer to communicate through a machine than have a conversation across the table?
Dr. Turkle has these simple suggestions for changing this culture:
1. Regularly declare your e-mail account bankrupt. Create an automatic response to e-mailers letting them know that the long list of emails you now have will be ignored. Ask those who have a continuing relationship with you to send another e-mail which you will answer it.
2. Declare mealtimes, times that you are picking up your children from school or events, and trips to the park or a playground “sacred spaces.” Turn off your phones and computers and speak and listen to your children.
3. Remember that you are a model for your children. If you want them to get off their phones and communicate with you, you have to model getting off your phone to communicate with them. Leave the house without taking your smart phone, so they can see that you can have a life without it.
4. Practice driving without the radio on or sitting in the house with the TV, radio, MP3 player, computer, or any other noise making device turned off. Spend time alone and encourage your children to spend time alone – with their books or toys or art work or pet.
You could even read Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, published by Basic Books or watch one of several TED speeches she has given.
Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT