The intimacy of technology
I've never loved anyone the way I love you, he tells her.
Me too, she responds.
Romantic, no? But the problem with these swoon-worthy lines is that they occur between a man and his operating system. They're from Her, a film that's bizarre at best and tragic at worst. I find it tragic not so much on behalf of its isolated and confused protagonist, but because of the truth of our culture that it represents. While it's set in a futuristic Los Angeles, where technology has advanced far beyond what we now know, I've gleaned from the film striking parallels to my own experience.
Theodore has never loved anyone the way he loves Samantha. She is his constant companion, radically available to him without question. At the touch of a button she appears, or rather her voice does, ready to engage in conversation. They venture out together, his head filled with her words, nearly oblivious to the people around him. She's entirely responsive, altogether accessible, and wholly unreal.
So, what about me? What bearing does this have on my life? How could I possibly see myself in a man so disconnected from reality that he prefers his so-called relationship with an incorporeal voice to that with every living, breathing man and woman around him? It takes little imagination to recognize, I find.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm overly connected to my phone. That I fail to be fully present to the person across from me. That I fall into the habit where a screen is the first and last thing I see in a day. That I check Facebook while I sit at stoplights, send texts as I walk down the sidewalk, glance at my email during conversation. I've never been so habitually available to a person as I am to my phone.
And what of this “intimacy” business? Surely that’s taking it a bit far, no? While I can’t always claim to be innocent of a tendency toward melodrama, I think the concept is quite apt.
I like to be near my phone. I like to know where it is at all times. If I’m not holding it in my hand, it’s easily accessible in my pocket or wallet. I panic when I misplace it, even for a moment. I check it far too often, that brief click of the power button temporarily assuaging my need for connectivity, my need to be reachable, my very need to be needed. I await new texts, unread emails, Facebook notifications, up-to-the-minute Instagram posts. I listen for a ding, feel for a vibration, look for a lit screen. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I’m conditioned to expect an immediate fulfillment of a temporary desire. And the more I reflect, the more I realize that it’s a desire I need to temper. It’s a deeper fulfillment I ought to be seeking. And here’s my plan.
My habit of checking my phone with great regularity is not an easy one to break, but it helps to exercise my self-control in small, manageable ways. It can be as simple as ignoring a notification I hear when I’m in conversation, when I’m deep into a good book, even when I’m otherwise unoccupied. Simply a few minutes of resisting that urge is a victory, is a breaking down of my subtle yet injurious addiction. There is no need to be a slave to immediacy.
Seek to be interrupted.
When I am absorbed in my screen, I resent interruption, somehow feeling entitled to my task at hand, even if it is as mundane as mindlessly scrolling through my stale Facebook feed. Yet when it’s my phone that’s the source of interruption of an in-person interaction? That’s somehow socially acceptable. I’d like to defy this double standard by instead warmly welcoming human interruption, even when my tending to my phone seems justifiable or necessary.
Avoid counterfeit connection.
I fear that the majority of the time I spend glued to my phone is not the source of true connection. Yet I am thankful for the way technology has the potential to connect me in ways otherwise impossible—I can, in the span of just a few minutes, communicate with beloved family and friends across the country, even world. I can choose direct my time engaged in technology use toward a more active giving of myself, rather than a passive consuming of friends’ or even strangers’ updates.
Turn it off.
Just to really embrace this radical call for disconnection from technology, I’ve turned off my phone while I write this. But what about the friend I just left a voice mail for? What if my roommate is locked out? What if my mom wants to ask how my day was? They can wait. I’d rather focus on the task at hand, chat with my fellow coffee shop patron, notice the one-socked toddler pass by. When my phone is off, I am more engaged in my surroundings. It’s delightfully freeing.
Cultivate true intimacy.
I am made for intimacy, and not with an inanimate object, however superficially alive. I am made for intimacy with my neighbors and with my Creator. As I seek to live abundantly, I’m looking for moments to lock eyes with passersby, to receive a suffering friend with great attentiveness, to listen to the small, still voice of God in the recesses of my heart. It’s in these moments that I am truly connected, that I can experience deep intimacy, that I open myself up to profound joy.
Won’t you join me?