In only a few consecutive days, terrible news about our cultural decline came into my purview from several sources. I read a great article by Daniel Henniger, from the Wall Street Journal, August 8, entitled The Deep Dangers of Life Online. Then I read a study reported in the New York Post stating that 22-25 % of Millennials say they have no friends and some even no acquaintances (positive lesser relationships). Then I read a sports writer who complained that kids do not play sports “like they used to,” and that most kids give up sports at 11 years of age. Then the co-founder of Facebook wrote about its dangers and that he does not allow his kids to be on it. It is habit forming, numbing and dangerous! Other hi-tech leaders from Silicon Valley decry the effects of the Internet and tell families to keep their kids away from it or at least to strictly limit it. All of this in just two days!
Henniger points to studies showing that the amount of Internet time is strongly correlated to anxiety, depression and suicide! He writes, “I don’t think the human brain was designed to endure the volume of relentless inner-directedness that is driven by these new screens. It is not natural or normal. Anyone who spends that much time immersed inside their own psyche is headed for trouble.” He goes on to show how the Internet foments anger and rage in lonely individuals.
I well recall the joy of growing up playing sports. Yes, I was fat and it was difficult, but it was a family value, so I plodded along. Hours were spent on the field: stick ball, baseball, basketball and football from grade school to college. We learned team work, unselfishness, effort, perseverance, discipline and, yes, friendship.
In Seminary I read two books to which I often refer: Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and Vance Havner’s, A Nation of Nomads. Both decried the fact that we were creating a nation of fleeting and shallow relationships. Toffler noted that economic forces were driving the processes of moving and changing at such a rapid pace that marriages and friendships would be difficult and that many would just stop trying; marriages would not last. Havner called for putting on the brakes. Then I read Bruno Bettelheim, The Informed Heart, which recounts what he learned in the Holocaust. A parallel book was Victor Frankl’s, also written from the Holocaust where he argued that human life had to find personal meaning to be sustained. The meaning of life is in relationships. This indeed was a biblical emphasis. What would they think of our fleeting relationships today in the texting and Internet culture? The most important thing is intimate relationships, beginning with our relationship with God. Texting and Facebook cannot replace personally “being there.”
Then I think of the feminist movement. So much of the argument is that women are not being paid equally. But current studies show that they are not being paid equally as a total sum of income because they take time off for their children and other enriching activities. Would that feminism did not seek to find primary meaning in climbing the economic ladder to equality with men so that they can live as empty a life as the men! Rather, would that the protest had been for work for both men and women, which also enabled time for personal growth in relationships.
Loving and stable marriages and families are on the best level of what life has to offer. Building lasting communal intimacy in congregational life is difficult but when attained has a high value. In Israel, we may have closer connection due to the proximity of living in a small country. However, we still face the same loss of intimacy, and media replacement of deeper relationships. May we all keep this in mind and build communities with long-lasting, committed covenant relationships.