Connect or Disconnect

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

Relationships are essential to a productive, healthy life.  I believe that we humans are created to relate first to God and then to other people.  The quality of our relationship with God and others greatly determines the quality of life that we enjoy.

In this 21st Century, we have made great strides with technology, but it raises the question whether they are impeding interpersonal relationships.  While advancements have tremendous advantages, they can also have a negative side effect.  One example is social media.  Instagram, Facebook and Twitter were designed to help people connect.  Recent studies have found that spending too much time on social media can actually disconnect people.

The University of Pittsburgh recently surveyed 1,787 adults ages 19-32.  They found that people who use social media for over 2 hours a day were twice as likely to report high levels of loneliness.  Prime Minister Theresa May recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness, saying that loneliness is a “sad reality of modern life” for many English people.

connect or disconnect (2)Silicon Valley has been looked upon as the forerunner in technology advancements.  But it has also produced the side effect of poorly relating to people.  This year, several companies have paid local modeling agencies to attend social functions to help people communicate with each other.  In fact, local modeling agencies have said tech companies have approached them in “record numbers” during the holiday season.  They pay from $50 to $200 an hour per model to chat with party attendees.

One typical party featured 25 female and 5 male models paid to hang out with “pretty much every one there.”  The tech firms make the models sign non-disclosure agreements and give them names of employees to pretend they are friends with.  I think high tech needs to be translated into high capacity for relating meaningfully to people.

I remember reading years ago about a little lady who every day came to the Post Office and stood in a long line just to buy postage stamps.  The Post Office employees came to know her well.  One day the man from whom she always bought the stamps suggested the Post Office now had a new stamp machine dispensary.  He explained she could simply come in and put money in the machine and not have to stand in line.

The man noticed the little lady continued to stand in line each day and buy the stamps from him.  One day he asked her, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine?”  She looked at him and said, “Because, Mr. Brown, that machine never asked me how I’m feeling today.”

People have feelings.  People are created to give and receive emotional touches.  We need that.

A Chinese company, AvitarMind, has developed a 3-foot tall robot to relate to children whose parents are not around.  The robot can sing, dance, and play ‘rock, paper and scissors.’  It can talk with children and answer questions like, “Why is the sun hot?”  It can also provide surveillance and video chat for absent parents.  AvitarMind says its robot is not designed to provide companionship to children, but to keep them occupied for several hours after school until their parents get home.  We now have a robotic babysitter for latch-key kids!

Meaningful relationships will never be replaced by robots, social media advancements, or high tech machines.

It seems to me that a good, balanced life knows how to have a healthy attitude toward all the technological advancements that are available to us, but at the same time, relate to people just as we want them to relate to us and as God relates to them.  Developing better relationships is something I want to work on in 2018.

Proverbs 11:25 – “Those who will refresh others will be refreshed.”  Proverbs 18:24  – “A real friend sticks closer than a brother.”   Ecclesiastes 4:9 – “Two people are better off than one for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But one who falls alone is in real trouble.”

What is your use of technology producing?

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