Flipping Switches

I can still remember a time when I had no internet. Strange. It’s hard to imagine a world without the web. Our first computer was bought when I was five years of age. It ran one of the earliest versions of Windows. I can’t remember if we even had a mouse for it. I was young, so what did I do? Play games. What else is a five-year-old going to do with a computer?

While the computers of my very young age rested atop a desk (hence, “desktop” computer), exponentially greater power rests in the palms—the palms of millions of hands worldwide. They’re not that expensive, and they do basically everything. Smartphones not only call people, but they process more data more rapidly than the early Apollo spacecraft. It borderlines on miraculous.

Despite the beauty of a world more connected and more accessible than it has ever been, we find ourselves in a predicament. It was more obvious to people raised within a decade of my birth because they really experienced the first wave of it. I’m talking about media addiction. Sure, resistors have always followed new technology of all kinds (electronics pun emphatically intended). But it was mostly about work at first. As the English proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  Then something happened. Computing became about more than work. It became about leisure. Enter the gamer’s world.

Atari. Nintendo. Sega. Sony. Microsoft. And let’s not forget the countless software devs that work not only with countless hardware platforms but develop countless games for those platforms.

I’m not going to lie. I love video games. I don’t play much now, but they’re loads of fun. They can be simultaneously exhilarating and almost therapeutically relaxing if that’s your thing. But just like anything we do for leisure, we are subject to being caught in a world. Sure, there are professional gamers just like there are professional athletes, professional critics, professional… everything, really. But as someone who has been there, anything can be allowed to get out of hand. Anything can become an addiction.

Let me be clear. Video games, work computers, smartphones, all these things—they’re fantastic. They’re beautiful. God made us beautifully, so you’d think we’d also make things beautifully, though not on His level.

But we’re also fallen.

Fallen man likes to create fantasy worlds. Fallen man likes to escape pain. Fallen man likes to walk the easier roads. While tech can be a beautiful conduit, it can easily suck us into itself.

Take social media as a somewhat ironic example since I’m sharing this via WordPress. It was all built to connect people with each other, and on a global scale. It has succeeded. Nonetheless, people have succeeded to add this to the shells we tend to put around ourselves. There was email. Then there was instant messaging. Then there was Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. And they just keep coming. It was just a quicker way to send mail at first. Then it became shorter and more conversational. Then we could share photos. Status updates. Videos. Articles. Links. We could comment on them. Now we can “like” them. Favorite, +1, upvote, downvote, pin. Heck. Many Facebookers treat their profile like it’s their own personally written and edited news column, mainly because it is. Professionals and people in the public realm use social media on the daily to promote, promote, promote. We the fans show our support by following their accounts, liking their fan page, subscribing to their videos.

When a tragedy comes to our friends, we can now easily send them our condolences. They can easily notify anyone at any time about the big, the little, the good, the bad, the average, the special, the exciting, the utterly snoring-boring.

Now, I grant you that not everyone is connected on a deep level. That’s okay. That’s not a fault, especially when you take into account how social media for the first time makes celebrities easily accessible to fans, serving to somewhat destratify social classes.

But I want to ask you a personal question. Be honest. How easily does this tendency to show support via digital media erode the real-world connections you have? Some may be more prone to this than others. I know I am. When I first started out on social media, I didn’t post much. I didn’t say much. I had a profile picture, blogged sometimes, and messaged friends often. Then I realized how fun status posting could be. I could share any thought, no matter how small or quirky, with everyone. But despite the fact that this practice isn’t necessarily inherently bad, albeit somewhat annoying, I eventually started to feel cheaper, so I started posting less. The less I posted, the less wrapped up in the news feed I was, the more I lived in the real world with the real people. That should be the point of social media, but is it anymore? Or has it turned into more of a personalized paparazzi feeding a free digital tabloid, like TMZ for our own little lives? Just like we reduce celebrities in that kind of way, is it possible for social media overconsumption to do that to our lives, teaching us to neglect the people in them in the deepest sense? Have we reduced people we are supposed to love into entertainment we consume?

How sad it is that our show of support to people has been reduced to flipping switches via digital remote control. No longer do we need to pool efforts, nor make a journey, nor immerse ourselves in each other’s arms, nor speak words of life, nor give of ourselves. We flip switches. Ones and zeros. On and off. Does this not speak so much about how we think of ourselves and our lives? We have reduced ourselves to the machines we use, but this is not who we are. We are not machines, and therefore, we cannot be fixed. But we can be loved. We can surround ourselves with each other. We can bear one another’s burdens. We can encourage one another. But we cannot fix anything, and no, kicking each other will not make us work, as we seem to think is true of our gaming consoles.

Those without knowledge cannot push a button to activate some hidden portion of their minds. Those without morals cannot simply plug into a set of values that make them treat the world with as much value as Jesus treats them. They who mourn don’t have the luxury of flipping a switch to make it all better.

A thumbs-up icon doesn’t always mean you care.

Jesus inhabits us. He doesn’t flip a switch.

Jesus heals us. He doesn’t fix us.

We are not machines. We are souls.

Social media can be a good thing.

Make it a place you can thrive, not a place where real relationships go to die.

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