I have just been away on a Leadership Development Course for young women, based in the pristine region of Somerset, Queensland. As well as being pristine, much of the area is disconnected, that is, there is little to no mobile phone reception.
For me, a week away with no access to emails, multiple calls and messages, no need (or rather no way) to check social media sites, is surprisingly refreshing. I could access the staff wifi, but chose not to use it for any personal reasons.
The course participants had no way to access the wifi, and the majority of them had no reception at all, however one mobile provider does get mobile reception on site. This opened the floodgates for questions (which I'm still pondering) such as: is constant connection actually causing us to disconnect?
Constant online connection
Without a doubt, the biggest issue that I saw the participants face (who were strategically placed in groups designed to encourage team work, build relationships, and challenge one another) was around virtual connection. Some girls chose to use their phones to contact family or friends, instead of getting to know their group members.
Some chose to stay connected to their social media sites instead of living in the moment. Some chose not to use their phones, even though they could, and were frustrated when other group members seemed to lack the same discipline or commitment to the course. Even for myself and the other staff, the temptation to check what friends and family are up to is very real, and choosing to be offline for ten days can be extremely difficult.
Is constant virtual connection undermining our ability to connect on a real, human level? I certainly think so. And while the course I have described caused me to think on this issue, it is definitely not an isolated example.
As a stay at home mum, I often find myself flicking through Instagram or Facebook while my daughter plays right in front of me. I could say I miss the adult interaction or that she needs to learn to play independently, but the reality is that I often take something good, and positive, and a part of daily life, and use it to disconnect from real life.
The amount of information the internet provides at our fingertips, the (real) connection it gives us to loved ones whom we don't see often, the opportunities it provides, are great. I totally see that in many wonderful ways, technology can and does connect us.
But if our online connection is stopping us from connecting on a basic face to face level, something is not right.
Disconnect to connect
On the day of writing this, I went for a walk with my daughter, and three times got out my phone to 'document' our walk on Instagram. We got home, and I thought about how unnecessary that was, and how much I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking my phone is part of me.
For the rest of the afternoon, I disconnected so I could connect with my girl. We cuddled, we practised walking (Lucy, not me, I've pretty much got it sorted now), we blew raspberries and we read. Normal things that don't need to be on display for the world, but that mean the world to my little girl.
It's no secret that I love Jesus, and when I look at the life of Jesus, I am struck by his deep connections to people. He loved the rich young ruler (Mark chapter ten verse twenty one), he spent quality time with Zacchaeus (Luke chapter nineteen verse five), he even washed the feet of Judas (John chapter thirteen verses 1 - 30).
I don't know if Jesus would have had a Facebook page or an Instagram account, but I know that if he did, it would absolutely come second to the messy, meaningful, real interactions that he had, face to face, with real life people.
Sometimes it's easier to scroll through my phone in a waiting room instead of making eye contact with those around me (let alone start a conversation). Sometimes it seems stupidly important (it's not) to make sure I try and get the right photo of Lucy to share online instead of leaving my phone in another room and giving her my full attention, knowing that being there, in that moment, is more than enough.
Sometimes, through all of our connections, we are actually disconnected from the things that matter most: real people in real life. I don't want to miss the moments, and I don't want to 'talk' to a screen more than I do to actual people. People mattered to Jesus, real connection mattered to Jesus, so it has to matter to me too. I have to be willing to disconnect, to truly connect.
Jess is a wife and mum who loves God and loves people, and wants to connect people to God in a meaningful and real way. She is passionate about serving young women, and you can find more information about the Leadership Development Course mentioned in the above article by contacting the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.