Teens are leading the way. Brad, a high school senior, takes periodic breaks from Facebook and Instant Messaging. Instead of sending and receiving digital messages that are pushed aside the instant a new post or message beeps or lights up, he is choosing face-to-face encounters with real people.
With wisdom far exceeding his eighteen years Brad says, “Humans learn to talk and make eye contact before they learn to touch-type, so I think it’s a more basic, fundamental form of communication.” He says abandoning digital connections allows him to enjoy “one really nice social interaction with one person.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, 274).
Brad joins a growing number of teens who are disappointed in the shallow relationships typified by Facebook, Twitter and other internet social sites. They also describe digital relationships as exhausting. There is the constant pressure to maintain your on-screen image, presenting yourself in the best possible light, even when you have to fudge on the truth with exaggerated profiles and doctored pictures.
Brad regards online relationships as “throwaway friendships.” Another teen, Hannah, wonders what she has to show for the hundreds of hours she has spent maintaining her various social network sites and perusing those of her online acquaintances. She realizes now that those online friends are not really part of her life, and she longs for a genuine, flesh-and-blood connection with someone. Pattie, only fourteen years old, leaves her cell phone on the table when she walks out the door. “It feels good,” she says, “to have people not reach you.” Not reach you with a technological device, that is. Without a cell phone in hand Pattie is free to engage someone eye-to-eye, to see the smile, feel the touch, and hear the laughter. (Alone Together, 275).
Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, describes the inner desires of these and many other young people as the longing for sacred spaces. Sherry says “a sacred space is not a place to hide out. It is a place where we recognize ourselves and our commitments. A sacred space is about location and values. “Where we live doesn’t just change how we live; it informs who we become.” Technology promises us life on the screen, with a host of social, dating, and chat sites and pages to interact with scores of people with whom we will never shake hands or share coffee. But, Turkle asks, what kind of life flows from our connection to and location in our computer? “Where do we live, and what do we live for?” (Alone Together, 277).
Young people like Brad, Hannah, and others are saying, “I’m not living for the screen anymore.” They are powering down and checking out, checking out of the digital and opting for the personal. They are seeking sacred spaces to discover themselves and experience life with others in real time connections.
We gave our kids the digital world. Some of them are saying “No thanks,” and are giving it back. Good for them. Good for us.
Technology is part of our lives now. Frankly, I don’t want to do without it, not completely. But I don’t want to be enslaved by it, either. I need the occasional break from the incessant hunger of the tech devices to be turned on, looked at, listened to. I need sacred space.
In sacred space, a place of quiet and calm, we can find our location and values. We might even find more. Adele Calhoun sees sacred space as a place to rest, a place to “make space in my life for God alone.” (Adele Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, 66).
Brad and Hannah are leading the way. Shall we follow them? For one hour today, and for one afternoon this week, let’s power down and check out. Seek time in quiet, contemplating location, values, and God. Take a friend to coffee. Hold your spouse’s hand. Ask your kids what their highest values are. Spend real life time with God, friends, and loved ones. There’s hope some of our teens might help us rediscover other ways to power up and check in.