(Regaining Our Humanity in the Age of Technology)
I don’t even have to touch my phone anymore. I simply say two magic words, “Hey, Siri,” and the girl wakes up, listens to my voice, and follows my command. It’s a marriage made in heaven! Except, she’s a robot, misunderstanding half of what I say and giving me quirky answers to my questions. When I asked, “Hey, Siri, why do I feel lonely?” she responded, “All great and precious things are lonely. So it would seem you’re in good company.” Gee, thanks, Siri. I feel so much better now.
Our age of technology has boiled down to touchless communication with gadgets which lack human intimacy. In a June 4, 2018, Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article called, “Alexa, What’s Wrong with Siri?” Joanna Stern reports that “Siri processes 10 billion requests a month.” Humorously, Stern writes that most of these 10 billion inquiries are humans clarifying what they originally said because Siri failed to process correctly.
Let me tip my hand and show my cards. I am not anti-technology, but I do think there is something wrong when we talk to Siri more than we do our friends. I tend to be a bit old school in my communication and relationships. I prefer face to face over video. I prefer phone calls over texts. I prefer hand written notes over emails. I begrudgingly use Facebook and mainly do so because some people don’t communicate any other way. In a critique of the inhumanity of our digital age, I love what David Pierce wrote about losing the warmth of humanity in his July 8, 2018, article called, “Phone calls are dead.” He writes, “In the swing from calls to texts, we lost the warmth and humanity that made the telephone work in the first place.” Pierce proceeds to say that texting, although convenient, “lacks humanity.” It lacks the personal touch of human relationship. It lacks flesh and blood. It lacks incarnation and the physical presence of another person.
Long texts drive me crazy. They eat away at my humanity. Just the other day, I received three consecutive texts, totaling 691 words, from a person who was verbally processing. I wanted to pull my hair out. After sifting through his lengthy dissertation, I responded with a few short words summarizing my thoughts. When it comes to how we communicate, we can do much better at recovering humanity which has been lost to Siri and Alexa. What if, instead of writing a book via text, we simply visit with a friend in person or pick up the phone and call them? So archaic, right?
There is a wonderful verse in the Bible that addresses this recovering of humanity and demonstrates the priority of face-to-face human relationships. It’s found at the end of the epistle of 2 John, a book that is just 300 words in length, almost short enough to tweet and certainly shorter than some texts I receive. John has so much more he wants to say, but he decides to save it for another time:
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (v.12)
There it is, Siri! John shows the priority of human interaction as more superior to the inhumanity of a written letter. No, there is nothing wrong with a letter, but there is something much more personal about sitting with someone face to face. In our fast-paced, digitally-soaked age of tweets and beeps, we would do well to recover our humanity through more intentional contact with real people.
Just this month, in the July/August edition of Christianity Today, Christina Crook wrote an excellent article called, “Holy Inefficiency in a Digital Age.” Like me, Crook has grown weary of how inhuman relationships have become. She grew “discontent with the voyeuristic ways” that define many relationships. Crook invites us on “a journey to unfriend convenience in an effort to better serve my loved ones.” Her basic premise is that “it’s time to forsake technological ease and rediscover cumbersome human relationships.” Read that sentence again.
Let me suggest two practical steps that every one of us could strive for:
- Forsake Technological Ease. Don’t let the efficiencies of technology rob you of personal relationships.
- Rediscover Cumbersome Human Relationships. Prioritize the inefficiencies of human contact.
Sure, technological communication may be faster and more efficient, but at what cost? Yes, real contact with humans may be cumbersome and less efficient, but consider the benefits! Think of it:
- If you are grieving the loss of a family member, what comforts you more: the friend who shows up to put an arm around you, or the executive who sends flowers because they are too busy to come?
- If you are recovering from surgery at a hospital, what makes you feel more special: the neighbor who visits with you for an hour, or the pastor who sends a “Get Well Soon” email?
The illustrations are endless. Bottom line: we all crave human contact. We long for someone to break through the loneliness of our lives and show they truly care. In a digital age when we are inundated by texts and emails, there is something powerful about the archaic, old-school, terribly-inefficient contact of human touch. Like the old AT&T advertising campaign said, we should “Reach Out and Touch Someone.” Indeed we should.
So as we rediscover cumbersome human relationships, here are a few practical action steps to consider.
- Face to Face. Reach out and touch someone. Invite a friend to have coffee. Visit a neighbor at their home. Invite a coworker to share a meal at your home. Prioritize the beauty of sitting face to face with people to share emotions, dreams, prayers, and thoughts. Yes, it’s cumbersome and less efficient, but the personal payoff is huge.
- Handwritten Notes vs. Email. Handwritten notes are becoming a rarity. That’s a shame. We need to rediscover the personal nature of writing notes to people with pen and ink. Notes that encourage or compliment. Notes that say you are thinking of them. I make it a personal discipline to write anywhere from 4-10 note cards a week, with pen and ink, and the results are astounding. Nothing else I do has a greater return on investment in individual people than handwritten notes. There is something about it that says, “You are valuable. You are worth my time. You are special to me.” As a personal testimony, I can tell you that I filter and delete hundreds of emails a week, many without even reading them. But when I receive a handwritten note, I read it thoroughly, cherish it, and keep it stacked on my desk. Why not go buy a stack of cards and make it a weekly habit to write notes?
- Don’t text or email emotions. I am all for emailing and texting…information. For example, if I need to communicate a schedule to my wife, it may be appropriate to text the day and time of the meeting so she knows about it. However, if my wife and I had an argument in the morning that went unresolved, I should never use text to communicate my frustrations. Conflict resolution is best reserved for face-to-face conversation, or, at the very least, a phone call where people can hear your voice. When it comes to texting, let’s live by a simple rule of thumb: Texting should be for information transfer, not for emotional processing.
Enough said. The best way to break through loneliness and regain our humanity in an age of technology is to stop using Siri and start rediscovering human contact. Imagine how much better this letter would have been if I had sat with you, face to face, over coffee!
I have so much more to say to you. For now, read 2 John 12.
You are loved,