Constant Connection

We live in a world of constant connection. We carry with us little black glass ‘communication’ devices that mean we’re connected at all times; there is no situation in which we can’t be reached or distracted or bothered by an economy built on attention.

We’ve all been there: you’re having a deep conversation with a friend where they are bearing their soul in one way or another. They’ve made themselves vulnerable to you by sharing—that’s the definition of friendship, in my book—and you’re doing your best to honour their openness by listening. And then your phone buzzes. Almost without thought, because we’ve been trained into a Pavlovian reaction, your hand reaches down to your pocket or your bag to get the dopamine dispenser and receive your next hit.

We’re addicted, though that’s because the technology companies deliberately hacked our biology in order to make us addicted.

Your friend is crushed, though here in the UK will be too polite to say so. They were vulnerable and you showed them exactly how important they are to you—they come under the phone in the pecking order.

I do this all the time though; we’re trained into certain kinds of responses by the devices that we use. We want to value the genuine connection with our friend, and yet the false connection offered by the device prevents us from doing so.

Smartphones are meant to connect us, social media promises friendship, and even a dumbphone is supposed to be a communications device. And yet, in the paradoxical way that unintended consequences rule the day, they disconnect us, are unable to proffer friendship, and make communication harder.

And then, to complicate the tale, enter Generation Z. The most connected generation in history, if we allow the internet to count. ‘Constant Connection’ is one of the four features I used to describe Gen Z in my work helping Pastors understand them. Except, it’s a connection that leads to disconnection.

Practising Disconnection

If we want to connect with other people—and to complicate it ‘connect’ is itself a machine-word that makes a number of implicit assumptions about humans that I would want to deny—if we want to build relationships of mutual trust with the lofty goal of friendship, then we will need to disconnect ourselves.

The scenario I painted above can be avoided in two ways: turn off your push notifications, and retrain your reactions.

  1. Turn off your notifications: you don’t need them on. You really don’t. When you want to see who liked your hilarious post, open the app. You’ll do this a lot to start with, but at least win some battles by meaning your phone can’t interrupt you except for the basics.
  2. Retrain your reactions: this is much easier said than done. I don’t have a roadmap to success here either, but we have to develop the kind of self-control that means if the phone does go off at an importune moment we simply don’t look at it. It can wait. It isn’t that important. The person in front of you matters a lot more.

Some people will be offended by this, because we’ve got used to people being instantly available. We need to change our expectations about how instantly someone will get back to us.

And, sometimes, we need to deliberately practise disconnection. When in your life is your phone off and no one able to get hold of you? Mine is for around 8 hours a day. I might be asleep for most of that, but it also includes the hour I spend with Jesus praying and reading the Bible.

On the occasions that for one reason or another I do turn my phone on, my devotional time goes out the window.

Perhaps we should also consider disconnecting for other times too. I’ve read Andy Crouch talk about having an internet free day a week (the Sabbath in essence, which is a good idea) and an internet free week a year. I haven’t done this myself, but it’s an attractive idea.

Producing Arenas of Disconnection

If that’s a good individual habit, then it also means that we need to corporately encourage these good habits. This is true societally but let’s just think about churches for a moment. Would your meeting look any different if you assumed that no-one had their phone on during the Sunday meeting? I don’t mean insisting they turn it off, but instead making the base assumption that the tool isn’t available.

For a start, you would encourage people to bring their Bibles to Church with them. Beyond that it might change the way your serving teams communicate with each other (not necessarily for the better, mind), but I think it would slowly change the way we think as well. We’re catechised by machines, not all of which is necessarily bad, but all of it needs quantifying and reckoning with rather than assuming.

It might even start to make the Church feel like a definably different place to the rest of the world around it—an oasis of disconnection that paradoxically allows friendship to form and flow.

When we allow ourselves to realise that the Christian life has more in common with farming and the slow development of crops than it does the instantaneous life promised by our life online would be deeply beneficial. We can nod along, but this means removing the instant from our churches in every way. Because everything teaches, everything is a theological question, and all of it matters. A story is made from a thousand incidentals.

To sum up: put down the phone. Stop reading my blog. Look at a tree, hug a friend, take a moment to praise the Lord Jesus for all he has fearfully and wonderfully made.

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

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