The “Please, Someone Notice Me!” Generation


When I was a teen, I was really into Aerosmith. I had all their albums. Nearly played the grooves off the LPs.

My father was an opera and classical music buff. His assessment of Aerosmith: “The music you kids listen to is complete crap.”

The irony of this is that I eclipsed my father in rank geezerdom by a decade and a half. For by the time I was a mere 30-years old, I was already mouthing his same words whenever I heard the latest rap artist coming out of the boombox of some 16-year old with his pants lurking at the outer limits of his glutes.

What a fogey, eh?

Now despite 25 years in the tech field, I’ve got to say that I simply do not understand some aspects of the popular social/relational technology of our time.

For instance, to this day, I have never once seen the need to send an instant message via AIM or its clones. I see no reason to text anyone by cell phone (phone being the defining usage). Baby goes web surfingThe appeal of MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, Virb, and most of the other social networking sites is lost on me (though I can see some purpose in the business-oriented site LinkedIn). And I am utterly baffled by Twitter. Utterly.

Because I was being screamed at by every blogging guru to get a Twitter account, I did. As of today, I have yet to post anything through Twitter. Frankly, I still don’t get it. Why is anyone interested in knowing that I just took the trash to the curb or that I gave the dog a bath? In fact, if I were a criminal, Twitter and its mimics would be a gold mine. I mean, when some Twit tells the whole world, “Hey, I’m leaving tomorrow to go reef diving in Australia for the next month,” isn’t that akin to “Burglars, please break into my vacant house and rob me blind”?

A bunch of friends have all decided to join Facebook recently. I’m not on Facebook because I hear they sell every last bit of demographic info that you post there—like I need more spam or hopeful authors of books on dealing with incontinence (from a Christian perspective, of course), who beg, “Review my book on your blog and I’ll let you keep it.”

I guess some of you might wonder what the whole point of this blog is then, but the blog was never intended to be about me. It really is supposed to be about us and how we can be a better Church.

One of those new-to-Facebook friends sent me a screen capture of all the accumulated friends who posted on his Facebook page what they were doing or thinking (à la Twitter, sort of negating the point of Twitter, at least as I see it). The more I looked at those comments, the more I thought that we have become a generation of people who are dying for someone to notice that we exist. And we’ve taken that into the most impersonal venue possible, the Internet.

I find that reality soul-crushingly sad.

Several years ago, I read a book by John Locke called Why We Don’t Talk to Each Other Anymore that was prescient in its arguments that we are becoming a relationally-disconnected society through the use of technology. Locke’s arguments were astonishingly accurate for 1999, a date that preceded all the relational techno-ware by which we connect to others today.

Locke notes the loss of nonverbals such as body language, which scientists have found make up the large majority of communication signals we send through social interaction. The result is a generation of people who mangle interpersonal, face-to-face communication because they are too inexperienced in reading other people’s nonverbal communication. Worse, they fail to develop their own nonverbals as a result, which means that even people who are skilled at this type of communication find them to be perpetual blank slates.

In some ways, we are becoming a society of autistics, lacking the basic communications skills that define us as human.

Yet the cry of the human heart to be known and to know others remains. Our problem is that the means by which we choose to do this are fundamentally impoverished. The friend who sent me the screenshot of his Facebook site  was someone I’d seen face-to-face just hours previously. The amount of interpersonal information that we shared in the three hours we were together most likely dwarfed the sum total of emails we have sent each other in the twenty years we’ve been friends. How many people, though, find the majority of their relational cachet bundled up in deficient resources like Twitter, AIM, or even Second Life? I suspect the numbers are larger than we might believe.

I mentioned Joe Myers’ book The Search to Belong a few weeks ago and the startling statement he makes that it is too much to ask of people to come to our homes and visit for an evening. Too many people find this to be a complete nervous freak out, evidently. Is it any wonder? They’ve lived their entire relational life texting to “friends” or Twittering their lives away. How then would you relate face-to-face with flesh-and-blood people in their personal space?

Still, that nagging desire to be noticed by someone, anyone, grips people. When you’re reduced to a jagged avatar on an LCD screen with a couple burned-out pixels, life seems a little less meaningful.

Sadly, most people addicted to this stuff can’t see how they’re losing out. They keep screaming to people digitally to take notice, yet all the while there’s people right next to them they’re ignoring. (For the irony of this, consider the interactions of humans in the movie Wall-E.)

I’ve got to think the Church in the West MUST begin addressing this problem now or we may be too late. We’re inviting people into a relationship with God, but if they cannot relate to other people normally, how will they deal with the God of the universe? He’s never Twittered, as far as I know.

That dire call for attention becomes a roar when billions of people cry out at once. Are we listening? Are we going out to the byways and calling in the ones huddled under their bedcovers trying to get in one last texting from the Blackberry? Or are we, too, trying to type out “NE1 THER?”


UPDATE: The friend mentioned in the post sent me a  link to a New York Times article that completely rebuts everything in my post. I didn’t know about the article when I wrote this, but I disagree with many of its points. I find it odd that the fact that face-to-face time is suffering (as I said) is mostly glossed over and explained away. I’ll let you all decide the merits of the article, “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You“, and its comments afterward. BTW, the same friend informs me that hyperextroverts like me seem to be the only people who are put off by all these social networking sites. Evidently, introverts are just eating this up because it allows them to hop in and out of the networks so as to keep a toe in the social networking pond without having to dive in and hold one’s breath underwater for hours.

It’s Still Who We Know


Definitely not networking...If you’re single, I doubt that most people’s advice to you on finding a mate would be to sit home alone. Instead, they’ll say you need to get out and meet people.

If you are led to be a doctor, I doubt that most people would suggest you avoid college. Instead, they’ll advise you to get the proper education.

I suspect that few people would argue against that advice. I doubt that few Christians would, either, albeit with an added caution not to forget prayer and seeking God’s direction in the process.

No, I doubt that many Christians out there would argue against a person working to accumulate as many resources as possible before an undertaking, no matter what that undertaking might be. Even Jesus said that no king sets out for war without checking his resources

I interview people and write stories about them as part of my work. What perpetually strikes me is that these people rose to influential positions largely because of their social networks. They knew the right people, others who were influential and could make things happen. Now they are influencers themselves.

What also stands out to me is how well people who make no pretenses to being born again use their network of contacts, yet so many Christians I know are absolutely awful at doing the same.

As I look around at Christians that I know, it’s remarkable to me how few of us are connected to genuine influencers, the people who can pick up a phone, make a call, and put good things into motion. Instead, too many of the networks of these fellow Christians are more like puddles than teeming lakes or are so highly compartmentalized as to exemplify a ghetto. Is that not a squandering of resources that could be used for the Kingdom of God?

What’s utterly counterintuitive is that the decisions we may have believed were more “godly” stuck us with these tiny, fragile networks. Jesus Himself had 12 disciples, but He still went out of His way to snag that one critical influencer, Saul of Tarsus. That’s how important this issue is. Why then do we act as if it’s not?

As an example of my own personal failure in this regard, I bought the consistent Christian advice that I should devote more time to my family. What Christian hasn’t been bombarded with the “sanctity of family” message? It practically defines 21st century Evangelicalism. However, pouring time back into my family by eschewing happy hour with coworkers, including influencers, and begging off the Saturday morning golf outings has limited my network.

In talking with most of my Christian peers, we seem to all have the same story. Comparing networks reveals that we have little or no connection to influencers, just each other. And we’re definitely NOT influencers ourselves as a result.

Unbelievers, on the other hand, absolutely live and die by their networks. The smart ones play those networks constantly because they realize that doing so yields positive results in their favor. They know influencers, and those influencers make things happen for them.

Why, then, are Western born-again Christians so terrible at this?

I think part of it comes down to the thinking that God is all we need. On most levels that is true, but I don’t think that God created us to be disconnected from each other. Yet that is what ultimately happens. Some people feel like islands even in church, a most dreadful reality that should never occur.

There’s a disease in Western Christianity that spreads through the message that we don’t need our brothers and sisters in Christ. The result is that people languish as lone rangers. They ultimately question God about why He didn’t do such and such when the reality is that the person never had the right social resources in place for God to bring all the pieces together. Like I mentioned at the beginning, not a person here would expect God to make someone into a doctor without that person having the right educational resources first. Yet how is it that we scratch our heads when a ministry plan fails to come together for want of connections to the right people to help make that plan a reality? Yes, the Lord may build the house, but He still builds it from existing material.

All this disconnection leads to marginalization. We have our ghetto and we’re fine with it. And that’s a shame because I think it keeps too many of us back. It prevents us from being all we can be. It means we rarely interact with outsiders, including unbelievers. It backs us into a corner. Worse, it robs the world of the light of Christ in us. If we don’t interact with the darker world, how then will it fill with light?

I don’t think it has to be this way. How we build (or rebuild) networks, especially for us old guys, is the harder question. If we start working on that network, I suspect the inevitable catcalls from fellow believers will come. The sad part may be that we have to reduce our involvement in some unhealthy networks to spend time in better ones, and some fellow Christians may comprise that unhealthy network.

Hey, no matter how we look at it, it still comes down to who we know.