Modern technology is a great tool for keeping up certain aspects of our relationships. Writing emails, sending texts, scanning posts—all of these helpfully complement true companionship. But they cannot fully replace it. These are the shallow ends of relationships. We find these tools convenient, but then we’re tempted to neglect the deeper waters of shared experiences and face-to-face conversation. Very often the way we use technology leads away from, rather than in to, stronger friendships. We often trade deep communion for digital communication.
Technology can hinder friendship in four ways. First, it often depersonalizes communication. We use it to connect, but over time, we feel less, not more, connected. We use it to move closer, but we end up farther away. We trade conversations and experiences for details and updates. We’re more connected to more people more often than ever before, but many of our relationships become more superficial and less satisfying.
Second, technology can disengage us from real communion. Sometimes when we connect with people through technology, we disconnect from those who are sitting right around us. Friends sit across the table at a coffee shop and enjoy friendship, but not with each other—with the friends on the other end of their phones. Once when I visited a workplace, I stepped into a break room and saw six coworkers sitting around a lunch table. The room was silent. Five of them stared at their phones while the sixth looked at her food. She sat at the table with them, but she ate her lunch alone. Surrounded by peers, she had no one to talk to.
Third, technology disembodies conversation. When we engage in person, we experience our friends in unrepeatable and holistic ways. We notice her expressions, intuit her moods, and learn her quirks. Embodied friendship is full of dynamic, realtime, give-and-take interaction. In contrast, digital communication doesn’t demand much more than fingers to flit around a keyboard. This has a place of course, but it doesn’t match experiencing a person’s real presence. For me to see Dane’s head roll back and hear his laugh, to talk through personal challenges across the table with Taylor, to see the romance in Christina’s eyes, to sense the sincerity in Bill’s encouragement, or to pick up the witty humor in Trent’s tone—there is simply no digital equivalent.
Finally, technology creates dependence on less personal ways of addressing personal issues. Confessing sin and admitting failure, or on the other hand, addressing sin and confronting failure—each of these is challenging, and digital communication seems easier. We take time to craft a statement, and we don’t need to worry about immediate reactions. But then we soon prefer to replace a personal meeting with a phone call; a phone call with a voicemail; a voicemail with an email; and an email with a text. Each step smooths the path for the next. Soon we can hardly muster the courage to say anything difficult in person. And without the reassuring eye contact, gentle tone, and responsive clarifications, we often end up adding complications rather than clearing things up.