I have always liked the Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence.” Until recently, if you had asked my opinion, I would have said I don’t think anyone else could do it justice, but then I heard the version that the band Disturbed has recorded. My teenage son assures me I would not like Disturbed’s other music, and I’ll just go ahead and take his word for it, since he knows about these things. :-) One other version I loved recently happened during a marching band performance from one of the high school bands at the one and only competition we went to this year. The band played some of “The Sound of Silence,” and then, with the echo and overtones of the last chord played ringing in the stadium, stood on the field in complete silence for several seconds before playing again. It was musically and emotionally very powerful. But I’m digressing far from my point. I do like this version of “The Sound of Silence” that I’m posting under this paragraph very much, as it captures well a sense of heart wrenching alienation as it begins softly and builds in intensity. Something about the pathos of his voice and the musical arrangement captures the angst of the alienation that I think we are seeing more and more in our culture.
Paul Simon wrote this song in the 1960’s, capturing his own generation’s angst and alienation, but I think he was sort of a cultural prophet, too, because every time as I listen to the words and tone of the song, I can’t help but think of the whirlwind of alienation we are reaping upon ourselves with our smartphones/devices and social media.
Look at this stanza:
“And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
No one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.”
Does that not describe what happens on Facebook and Twitter a hundred thousand times a day? We are more connected than ever in this generation, yet the depth of those connections is superficial at best in most cases. When I first joined Facebook almost nine years ago (I actually had to go check because I can’t believe it’s been that long), it was only after resisting for a long while and I only joined because people from my old high school were working on a reunion and looking for people and someone (my brother, I think) said someone had contacted him looking for me. So I joined, thinking it might be a neat way to keep up with people from the past, especially since we move so often. And that part has been pretty cool. But, one of the griefs of my life is that I’ve found, while it’s cool to stay in touch, the closeness of the friendship is just not the same when we aren’t able to be face-to-face friends anymore. People I was very close to when we were able to go to lunch together and spend time in each other’s homes, just aren’t able to seem as close and well-known once we move away, even though we all post on Facebook and like each others’ statuses. Something is lost. And then when you factor in the ‘friends’ or people you follow on Twitter (or any social media platform) who you don’t actually know in real life and watch the way conversations tend to go on social media, you begin to see that there are an awful lot of people talking without speaking and hearing without listening, when you see how quickly such conversations can go sour. The silence that ensues from that kind of communication is the alienation of misunderstanding and talking past each other and the depression that can cause to descend, because the nature of the medium just does not lend itself to true conversation and understanding. It just doesn’t. And it is frustrating, because I believe we all long to be heard and understood and known and truly connected, not this false connection that social media fosters. It makes promises it just cannot deliver, like clouds that never bring rain.
But that’s not all. My thoughts as I listen to this song drift along in other directions, too.
Take a look at this phrase:
“And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.”
I bet you can guess where I’m going with this one, but what comes to mind every time I hear this is the generation of smartphone zombies we’ve cultivated. When was the last time you were in a room with random strangers when the majority weren’t lost in the glow of a personal screen? When was the last time you were sitting in a restaurant and you didn’t see people sitting at the same table together, but lost in their own little private worlds, looking at their phones, not talking to the person right at the table with them? Do you even remember a time when you could strike up a friendly conversation in a waiting room or grocery store line because people weren’t consumed with their own private little world? Do you remember people actually smiling at each other or just noticing someone else was even there in such cases? Have you ever been walking along in the grocery store and seen many someones oblivious to the fact that anyone else was there because they were so engrossed in their private little smartphone worlds? In moments when we have to wait, what’s our first inclination? Pull out that phone and start scrolling or texting, right? It’s unthinkable that we might take that time and let boredom steer our minds to actually have to think on our own, or, gasp, actually talk to someone else.
And then there is this: Want to try a scary little experiment? Take a walk down one of the busier streets in your neighborhood and count how many of the cars that drive by have a driver who is looking at a phone. I do this regularly and It’s quite terrifying. We’ve allowed ourselves to become addicted and enslaved to the dopamine hit of ever constant ‘new’ information. Only most of what we’re so enthralled with isn’t all that important, but we’re addicted, nonetheless. Try leaving your phone at home sometime, or, hey, just leave it in the other room. See how long you can stand it.
We’ve opened a Pandora’s box with our constant connectivity that I’m not sure we can close again. And I’m right there in the thick of it, too, I’m not pointing any fingers that aren’t coming squarely back at me.
I’ve seen studies that seem to point to a correlation in the rise in depression and suicide among our youth to the incidence of most people owning a smartphone. I think this bears some serious consideration. Is it possible, likely even, that with our constant connectivity we have sacrificed real, deep friendships for shallow ones, which means we are actually more alienated than ever? Is it possible that in the name of being more social, we’ve actually become much more consumed with ourselves, our image? We’ve become so consumed with taking the best selfies and posting the very best about ourselves and making sure our image is attractive that we aren’t really thinking about much of anything else, except maybe how offended we are about the current issue of the day and how we can best virtue signal how aware we are and how in tune we are with the current politically correct opinions. Are we more consumed with what we want to say than with how our words may affect other people? Are we more concerned with seeming to be in step with the culture than we are in thinking deeply about issues and searching the Bible to inform our thoughts rather than what the latest social issue people demand our thoughts should be? Don’t you see how quickly a social media thread can degenerate into unkind and unfair accusations and assumptions? Do you often walk away from reading social media feeling better about people?
Granted this is anecdotal, but I heard a story the other day that shocked me and made me very, very sad. I was talking to a realtor who told me that when she shows houses, very often her clients would prefer to text her their questions rather than ask them in person. I looked at her funny, and said, “You mean when they are right there in the room with you?” She said, “Yes.” I don’t know how common this actually is, but it is something she has experienced often enough that she was telling the story, and that just seems heartbreaking to me. Are we truly raising a generation that has lost even the barest minimum of social skills necessary to carry on a real conversation? Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the ability to have face-to-face, true relationships? Are we truly raising a generation that can’t enjoy a special moment without posting it, without having to seek the affirmation of their thousands of social media ‘friends?’ Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the skill of making genuine, deep friendships that do not have to be validated and upheld by Snapchat? Are we becoming so lost in our own little private worlds that we are missing the in-the-flesh people and needs all around us?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think part of what we lost in the Fall is the ability to truly be transparent and real with each other. No longer can we be naked and unashamed, not even emotionally. And now instead of being God-focused and others-focused, we are consumed with ourselves. Yet, don’t we long for true community and real connectedness? Don’t we long to know and be known? Isn’t that the draw of social media, that we can feel that what we have to say matters to someone, anyone? Isn’t that why we overshare the mundane details of our lives all over social media? Getting real and personal here, but perhaps, isn’t that why I’m writing this blog? To share my thoughts with someone who might listen?
A few of us ladies were having a discussion recently about friendships among Christian women. One lady was lamenting the fact that it is hard to get past the surface where everyone seems so ‘perfect’ to where you can share what’s real with other women. That is part of what we, as the church, should be able to do better than anyone else. We are called to love one another. That involves getting to actually know one another. We have to let down some of those walls and actually speak and listen, even and especially when it’s uncomfortable. We need community. We long for it. We may not ever experience it perfectly this side of Heaven, but we who love Jesus should be striving for it among our brothers and sisters. Have you noticed how very often believers are described as family and as a Body together? Together. I think we need to think long and hard about how important it is to put down our personal screens, spend less time cultivating our online pseudo community, look up, and expend the energy and even the sacrifices to get to know the few people we have in our real life circles, face-to-face. We are created for community. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.
One way I’ve found that is refreshing and beneficial in building this kind of face-to-face community is to sit with a few friends and share scripture together and pray together, sharing our deepest heart desires as we pray fervently. This builds deep, Christ-centered friendship in a way social media never can. Taking a meal together and sharing our hearts over coffee and biblical wisdom, phones carefully tucked away, leads to much richer connection than hours staring at a glowing screen ever can. Another way to build the kind of true connection we long for is to serve together, striving side by side for the sake of the gospel - the good news that Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile us to God. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled God’s law for us, He died on the cross and rose again. By His blood we can be declared righteous and freed from the penalty of our sin, freed from the curse, and freed to love God and love others. We need flesh and blood friendships. We don’t need hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ on our social media posts to affirm us. We need to be looking out, away from ourselves to others, to serving and loving others well, as we talk face to face and share real life experiences together.
So, while I like that song, I don’t so much like the alienation masquerading as connectivity that so clearly marks this world my kids are growing up into. May I be one who seeks to look up and out and love well the people God has placed near me. May I be more concerned with loving others than I am with feeding my own pride. And that very well may mean posting and reading less and less on my social media platforms, and learning to be wise and teaching my children to be wise about how we use those platforms and not asking of them more than they can deliver. So be it.