​The Age of Social Disconnection

The Absence of Personal Touch
This short piece comes during a time of reflection during a time of crisis birth by the realization that social media provides many advantages as it relates to our ability to communicate with each other. However, there is one great disadvantage created by social media that, in my opinion, seems to have gone unnoticed. I do understand that social media is one of the indicators of progress in this 21st century and progress is good but it is not always what’s best in every situation.  One of the advantages of social media is instant global communication. You don’t have to be standing in the room to talk to someone. Nor do you have to dial their number to have their voice transmitted to your earpiece to speak with them. You know, the telephone. Yes we have them in the form of cellphones now but sending text is an easier form of communicating because it takes less time and allows you to send short burst of information that exposes what you are thinking at that moment. But at least you have to take the time to find that person in your contacts to connect with them. 

The internet introduced the world to another form of social media that has a more global impact. As a result we have become trapped in a world of apps. All of these new applications are designed to influence the way we communicate with each other. If you want someone to know where you are at any given moment you can just hit your location button on facebook and the world becomes instantly aware of your whereabouts. You don’t have to be standing in a person’s presence to know what they look like anymore. You can take a selfie and instagram it and in a fraction of time have thousands, or perhaps millions, opinionated responses. Social media has its advantages. Networking, connecting with individuals you would have no other means of meeting, is made possible through social media.  Friendship and family have taken on a different context as a result of the progression created by social media. You know the impersonal euphemism often stated in communicating on facebook, “my facebook family”. 
Truth is, social media has been the catalyst for much of the change we have experienced in our world today. Change is good and necessary but some changes are not always best. 

Let’s be a bit nostalgic for a moment. Remember those days when you had to literally be in the same place with an individual if you wanted to talk to them. Or, if you wanted to visit you had to get in your car and drive to where they were. Oh, this is a good one. Remember when praying for each other meant being in the same room holding hands and hearing that person’s heart as they cried out to God for whatever was needed. My family is notorious for this one. If someone goes to the hospital they all take up residence in the hospital like it’s home. What about when a friend fell on hard times and everyone showed up to help them. Or, a new baby was born and all gathered around the new parents to show their support. 

What’s the point, you may ask. The absence of personal touch is the result of social disconnection. You see, while social media provides the means for mass social connection it is also responsible for intimate disconnection. There is something about being there that provides some reassurance and reveals a deeper level of concern. A shoutout on facebook telling someone that you are thinking about them or that you are praying for them is not a bad thing. A text message with personal notes of encouragements is wonderful. A selfie on instagram let’s someone see you but it is just an image it is not the real you that they can touch. There is something about being there that says what you don’t have to say with your mouth or type on a keypad. A hug does much more than a short burst of words will ever do. Sitting with someone during their time of difficulty carries more weight than a random text. Touch and touchability are essential to human communication. 

For years I have given my life to trying to be there for people when they are in need. I can count the number of times I have gone to visit individuals, where in their home or at the hospital, in jail or in the funeral home. The location is not important. Often times on my way to visit I thought intently about what I would say to them and each occasion often reminded me that it is not about what you have to say but simply that you cared enough to be there. Social media has created a chasm of disengaged contentment that suggest that only our words are enough. But if you ask anyone who is facing tragedy what they remember most your presence will always supersede your worlds. 
Finally, let me say a word to my fellow ministers who may read this. I understand your humanness. Being in ministry doesn’t exempt you from experiencing the pains of life contrary to what individuals who are not in ministry think. But here is some advice that has come from wisdom gained through experience. Don’t expect the same kind of care and concern that you give to others in their time of need. Let me justify that statement. These are some of the things I have experienced during the death of my daughter. “I would have called but I know you were busy.” “I’m sending this text because I really don’t know what to say to you.” “You’re a preacher what can I say that will help you.” Or to receive a message on facebook from someone telling you they are praying for you but you know they are not because a second later you see them posting something that in no way suggest that they are praying. Or worst of all to hear nothing from individuals who say they care.

Social media has robbed us of sharing or experiencing the personal touch that means so much. Change is good but it is not always what’s best.



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