The Internet has become the greatest telecommunications tool on the planet and has dramatically changed how humans connect and communicate with each other throughout the past twenty years. These changes have brought many benefits. We can now make or maintain connections with people around the world and communicate with them efficiently and inexpensively. We can learn about almost anything online and can access that information at any time and wherever we may be. Families can keep in touch over great distance; one can even talk with a family member deployed in a war zone! We can participate in each other’s lives through Facebook and other social media.
Nevertheless, the Internet cannot be considered a proper substitute for real life. Online connections and relationships may provide some benefits but they cannot properly compare with real life, face-to-face relationships. The Internet can lead us to an ironic paradox: the telecommunications tool which is designed to help us connect with other people can just as easily become the means by which we become further isolated and alienated from our fellow man.
From the beginning God declared that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Man is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27): God is One in Three Persons, with the Father, Son, and the Spirit One in relational unity based in love (John 17:20-23, 1 John 4:8). Therefore, it should not be surprising to see how humans yearn to connect with each other and maintain relationships with fellow human beings, first with parents and perhaps siblings, and, as they grow and develop, with schoolmates, friends, a special someone of the opposite gender, associates, children, and so on and so forth. We need these relationships: the better the connections we have with family and friends, the better quality of life we experience (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Even the Lord Himself maintained strong friendships with His disciples and Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (cf. John 11:1-36).
The Internet would seem to be a medium by which we could develop and maintain relationships, and to an extent, we can. Yet the Internet is not real life: to some degree or another, everyone puts on a false front on the Internet, projecting how they wish to be as much as who they really are. Internet communication cannot properly compare with real-life interaction.
The Internet also promotes superficiality in relationships. The idea of family or high school reunions seems quaint and outmoded when you can keep continuous track of others’ lives on Facebook. But keeping track of what others are doing on Facebook is not the same as truly being their friend. You may have information, but that is not necessarily a relationship.
Meanwhile, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, we often spend time on the Internet rather than spending time with the people around us. How many family meals are spent with the parents and children next to each other physically yet each one distracted by some electronic device or another? How many times do people mindlessly walk by others while fully engaged with their smartphone and/or music player?
Modern life is isolating enough: many of us spend a lot of time sealed off from other people in cars, in offices, and rarely meaningfully interact with the people around us. Why should we be surprised when so many are lonely, depressed, and in despair, wondering if anyone really cares about them or loves them?
The Internet is a wonderful tool for its purposes: with it we can develop or maintain some level of relationship with other people who may be far away or whom we might not otherwise know. Yet we must make sure that we do not become isolated from our fellow man because of the Internet. As long as we have life we do well to live in the world, developing meaningful relationships with others in real life so as to truly reflect Christ to them, encouraging and being encouraged in turn, and resist the trends toward isolation and alienation from our fellow man!
Ethan R. Longhenry