The other day a friend sent me this blog post by Peter Leithart. He quotes a cultural commentator and psychologist who laments “the infantilization of relationships that technology permits.” What a great phrase! Something to seriously consider: have I let my relationships get “infantilized”–that is, made immature, like an infant–by technology? This psychologist, Leithart writes, warns us about, “The ‘cleaner, less risky, less demanding’ interactions we have with robots or across screens.” He continues:
She is dismayed at how quickly we “settle for the feeling of being cared for and, similarly, to prefer the sense of community that social media deliver, because it comes without the hazards and commitments of a real-world community.”
There is a form of misanthropy at work, a “deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable, in ways that machines are wired not to.” Mediated through technology, we don’t have to deal with the boredom that descends on live conversation; and, in [her] words, “in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”
I’m not aware this psychologist claims to be a Christian of any sort. But don’t you find her analysis accurate? Reading this reminded me of our discussion this past weekend. Those of you who were with us took the time to work through the entire letter of 1 Peter. At one point we were all challenged by Peter’s words in chapter four verses 7-10. Included in this section is Peter’s instruction to “have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.'” We noted that Peter is giving us direction for what is needed to experience authentic Christian community. This is the kind of community built of relationships which span decades and generations. It’s full of people who know each other well enough to take care of each other and confront each other. And we saw that Peter is telling us that if we want that true, deep kind of community, we need to have a love that can cover the kinds of sinning against us that happens in the experience of real community–that is, the kind of love that can cover those sins rather than nursing grudges which tear relationships apart. Now we’re not talking about hiding or ignoring sin which is exploiting or injuring people at any deep level. We’re talking about all those normal things that happen when people are actually in each other’s lives for longer than a weekend retreat or a short-term missions trip. It’s easy to fabricate a sense of community over the short term–and it can be a beautiful thing. But the real work of living as the body of Christ happens when we’ve been together long enough to get past the extraordinary and into the ordinary–where we have to run into each other’s failings and annoying qualities.
And this is where I find the comments above so insightful. It is exactly this “deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable” which leads people to bail on Church, and leave their Christian community for “greener pastures” when maybe the better thing would be for them to stay. And I think the things which cause this disappointment are precisely the “sin” which Peter says we need to love people through (that is, we need to cover) if we’re going to be able to minister God’s grace to each other (4:10-11). That much is right there in Peter.
The final insight from this psychologist is about something Peter did not deal with in his day–all these devices. Technology can become a pacifier, a way to avoid the real issues and numb the pain from lack of real relationships. It can lead to an unwillingness to put in the effort required to actually stick with people, because we fake relationships with a lot of online connections. If this is true, it’s one more reason to be wary of our Smart Phones, and the kind of interactions they promote–Facebook can kill your church life. Texts can make real conversation extinct. Choosing the easy and fake can make us miss out on the difficult, but real.