Tim Challies linked to an interesting article that reflects a topic I’ve discussed in depth: technology’s attack on genuine community. A good article, worthy of your time and consideration.
Toward the article’s end, one educational scientist, William Kist of Kent State University, makes an intriguing statement:
[Kist] also pointed out that the “real world” that many social media critics hark back to never really existed. Before everyone travelled on the bus or train with their heads buried in an iPad or a smart phone, they usually just travelled in silence. “We did not see people spontaneously talking to strangers. They were just keeping to themselves,” Kist said.
Many Christian writers/thinkers/pastors/bloggers talk about community, but rarely have I heard any of them discussing what Kist states above.
That ability to engage a stranger is foundational to any healthy society. And it goes beyond simple transactional engagement, such as asking the butcher for pound of ground chuck.
As Kist notes, in the days before the proliferation of tech devices that wired us into our own little worlds, people were already in that world, we just couldn’t see it. I would contend that industrialization and social Darwinism abetted that transformation long ago, as we heartily received the false gospels of self-sufficiency and survival of the fittest.
Ours has become an “I don’t need you” society where people fight over scraps. Witness how easily a simple pending snowstorm turns grocery shoppers into frightened hoarders because their self-sufficiency is briefly threatened.
I honestly believe we can counter some of that mentality if we break out of our little worlds.
I was that guy on the plane flight who was chatty with the people in my row. I’m told that makes me a nuisance, but that was before everyone was plugged into a computer, iPad, iPod, Blackberry, or whatever. And you know, I never once had a conversation with rowmates that wasn’t fascinating. Nor did I ever get the feeling that those in the conversation resented the chat. People did open up. In fact, most people would leave the plane laughing or smiling after such a talk. Made the flight go faster too.
What got me was that just talking with a stranger opened up a level of connection that most people now avoid like the plague. Tech only makes it more obvious. (I would tend to disagree with Kist, in part, because a person with a gadget truly is less likely to engage another, lost as they are in their cyberworld. People may have been silent in the past, but that was only because they’d been acclimatized by conditioning to be so. Now, it’s supplemented.)
Those conversations I have on planes (and in checkout lines, buses, sporting events—wherever) have meaning. They tie people together and remind us that we’re not only NOT self-suffucient but that other people have worth, that their stories matter in the larger story of God’s redemptive history.
This brings me to my final point.
I’ve been wondering why Christians today are so lousy at personal evangelism, and I believe these issues play right into that. If we can’t engage people, if we aren’t the ones who break the silence, then no one will hear about Jesus.
I’m constantly amazed at the personal details I hear from strangers I engage. The young woman running my bag of carrots over the grocery store scanner has a story. And if I talk with her, I may find out her husband just left her and the kid to fend for themselves. Or that her mom just died of cancer.
For those of us who are Christians, how can we be silent? How can we be buried in an iPad when the drama of the lives of broken, shattered people plays out around us?
Do you think Jesus has anything to say through your lips to that young woman whose husband just left? Does He have anything to offer her after her mom died right when she needed her most?
Each day, our opportunities to lead lost people to Jesus are legion. How can we possibly be silent, to let others pass by trapped in a world they can’t understand, while we who claim to know the answers dwell in our own little world, oblivious?