“Alone Together.” Is there any better way to describe this moment in history?
As the wave of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic spreads across the globe, we are seeing whole societies and nations shut down and shut off human face-to-face interaction. In America, the jokes and funny memes have given way to a seriousness. Every hour more people are coming to the realization that everything has changed.
Three months ago, the conversations were completely different than they are today. I look back and recall having discussions about the pervasiveness of screen addiction and the challenge of too much social media and technology in our lives. I admit, I had a problem with screens, scrolling and such.
Today, my paradigm has shifted. My perspective has been stood on its head. Because of a tiny virus, we are experiencing what it means to be ‘Alone Together’.
Rather than focusing on fear and chaos, I’m looking for lessons and opportunities. I’m looking for new ways to ‘do life’ together in forced isolation.
How can we engage with this new reality without losing our minds? Or worse … How do we keep from losing our humanity?
“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”
– Sherry Turkle
I’d add that for millions of people, the spurious glitter of our technological goddess has answered our collective prayer. She says, “You want real isolation with your screens and social media? Your wish is my command!” And here we are, alone together with the goddess of our own making. But, we’re left wanting and empty.
The New Reality
Due to the current state of the world, the illusions and fog blocking our view of reality is quickly evaporating. More and more people are realizing that human contact is more important than we thought. The status quo has been upended in a matter of weeks. As a good friend of mine said yesterday, “The gods of western culture like sports, media, corporate greed and entertainment have all bowed to the spirit of fear.” Entire nations are being brought to their knees. People are around the world are coming to grips with a new reality. Many are fearful of what it all means.
In this very moment, we all have a choice to make. We are alone together on this island, the boats have been burned. There is no way off. What shall we make of this? We cannot build boats out of ashes or memories. We must build here and now. What you do right now will shape the culture in the age to come. We can be selfish and ‘me-centered’ or we can engage in sometimes messy relationships with others.
When you strip all of the stuff away, what do you have left? A better questions is, WHO do you have left?
The Bible says, that we are individually significant and we have intrinsic value. In spite of what modern social constructionists and social engineers tell us how different we are, we are of one race – the human race. We must see what is good, true and beautiful held in both our unity and diversity as human beings. We were not created to be isolated. We were created for community. We are hardwired for relationship … as hard and painful as relationships can be at times. A life pursuing pleasures is empty and meaningless. Think about it. The good stuff is found in knowing and being known by others. Loving people over stuff that can’t love you back.
You have a choice today. How are you living? Take an entire day to consider what your life will look like a year from now or 5 years from now. Try to see yourself from a future perspective. Who do you want to be? Who do you want to invite into your life? Who needs you to step into their life today? Are you lonely? Isolated? I’m here. There are a bunch of us here. We have been waiting for you. We could use your help, your talents and gifts.
Action Steps … you don’t have anything better to do
Take the coming days and weeks to consider who is most important in your life… I promise, its not you! Reach out to that old friend you haven’t seen or spoken to since college or high school. I guarantee they will be overjoyed to hear from you. If they don’t answer the phone, leave them a voicemail letting them know you were thinking of them. And, God forbid we tell our friends and family we love them! Write a letter to someone you love or a ‘thank you’ note to someone who impacted your life.
We were never meant to be ‘alone together’.
“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””(Genesis 2:18)
If you need prayer or have a comment, please reach out to me.
Remember, God loves you in spite of yourself (John 3:16).
Welcome to Part 3 of my blog series about Google. If you have not read my first post, I’d recommend reading Google: Friend or Foe Part 1 and 2 before continuing.
What type of threat do companies like Google pose?
First, I think one threat tech companies pose is rooted in their surveillance business models, data collection, in addition to outside business relationships with governments (foreign and domestic) and other third parties. How will they use data? We’ve already seen the privacy issues, subsequent lawsuits and investigations.
Case in point, ten years ago China executed a state-sponsored cyber attack against Google and other large businesses. Many believe the attack was a response to Google’s decision to stop offering their search engine in the Chinese market due to human rights concerns. In addition the totalitarian communist state wanted to censor, monitor and limit Google search results. This began an interesting relationship between Google and the NSA (National Security Agency).
Once you investigate links with China, you will discover Google’s “Dragonfly” project. In a 2018, article from Just Security entitled, “Google’s Dragonfly: A Bellwether for Human Rights in the Digital Age”
“This “history” throws yesterday’s news about Google’s secret “Dragonfly” project, a search engine that will meet Beijing’s demands for censorship, into disturbing relief. Ever since 2010, the Chinese government has never quite gotten over the rebuke leveled against it by an uppity Western ICT company, which in retrospect clearly discredited the government on the world stage. Google took the type of action in support of human rights that few governments, let alone the private sector, would dare attempt. Of course, the Chinese government viewed the incident as a threat to regime control …. But, in the end, the Chinese government merely had to wait its challenger out, and all would be well.”
“Resisting no longer makes any business sense when the laws and policies of your country of origin and other active markets begin to resemble those of the country from which you withdrew.”
On the home front, if you want to explore Google’s U.S. partnerships with government agencies, political groups, nonprofits and the like, check out their ‘Transparency’ page.
Another interesting article was written by Harvard Law Review in 2018 entitled, “Cooperation or Resistance?: The Role of Tech Companies in Government Surveillance”
Second, I think the biggest threat comes from the Social Engineering aspect of Google’s capabilities.
Remember, social engineering is used to manipulate people. When your platform is capable of shaping thought, behavior follows. Behind every artifact or innovation is a worldview – a philosophy of the person or group that created it. What is this artifact or innovation for? What is its purpose?
What is the dominant philosophy behind driving the current and future business model at Google? Does the philosophy view humans as dignified individuals or machines or something else? What are the political and economic philosophies expressed through search algorithms and social engineering.
Everything is fine when the people at the top are of goodwill toward their fellow humans. However, when organizations and their partners become self-serving, abusive or tyrannical, a perceived threat becomes real. Individual lives and whole societies will be impacted.
I don’t think we fully understand the power and implications of these technologies.
When a company makes profits by collecting, organizing and manipulating the personal data of billions of people we must attempt to understand potential threats and risks involved. In the wrong hands, these powerful tools can cause great harm or be misused to the detriment of humanity.
At the end of the day, Google is able to curate your internet experience to the places Google wants you to go. It controls what you see and what you don’t see. In other words, Google can herd people where they want them to go through powerful algorithms. Because Google has millions of data points on billions of individuals, Google’s powerful AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology can predict your behavior with creepy accuracy. If Google can tell you where to find the information you think you are looking for but Google wants to to see and what to buy, it can tell you what to say and think. It already does.
Without anyone knowing, Google is shaping the worldview of billions of people. The question is what is the shape of the worldview Google intends for users? How will Google treat worldviews that counter it’s own? Shaping thought can be beneficial but that is what parents, teachers, mentors, artists and leaders do – not tech companies.
The First of the Ten Commandments is; “…You shall have no other gods before me”. After digging into the tech giant’s business model, activates, partnerships and philosophy, I believe Google’s first commandment is “You shall have no other gods but Google.” Think about it.
After reading this series of posts, are you seeing a general theme?
What can we do about it?
Don’t just take my word for it, do your own research.
Take a technology inventory. List all of the technology devices and platforms connected to you and your family.
The band, Pink Floyd made this question famous on their 1979 album, “The Wall”. Under the haunting drones of synth chords and samples from the TV series, Gunsmoke, the listener is confronted with the question, “Is there anybody out there?” The question is repeated as the melancholy of the soundscape rises and finally breaks into a ethereal acoustic guitar melody accompanied by lonely violin. It provides some relief but not quite enough. The question still lingers about the mind, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s truly a genius two and a half minutes of music.
In the Pink Floyd movie “The Wall” this song plays at the point where the bitter and alienated Pink (the main character) is attempting to reach anybody outside of his self-built wall. The repeated question “Is there anybody out there?” suggests that no response is heard (1).
I remember back to my music and DJ days when I would be in the DJ booth playing records to a packed club of hundreds of people, yet there was an underlying sense of alienation. I could see people around me – but why does the question still gnaw at my soul? “Is there anybody out there?” Does anyone even care?
There have been seasons in my life when I’ve felt alone. Even when I had family and friends around, I suffered from disconnectedness. At points, this lead to depression and anxiety. Its hard recognize from the outside. By God’s grace and the love of family and friends, I don’t suffer like I did so many years ago. However, there are shadows of how I felt in those seasons that remain as a remembrance. I think it is important that I remember rather than forget what it’s like to feel alone. There can be no deep ministry to others without memories of our own misery.
Today, many people feel alienated and lonely in our technology-driven, pseudo-connected, over-stimulated, hyper-autonomous and instant gratification-focused cultural moment. We’ve relegated our relationships and existence to online platforms, how can we not be driven to alienation?
I think a dangerous new religion is emerging in the West. It’s called Alienation.
It has its own doctrines of disconnect and loneliness. We carry our slick, shiny, flat-screened idols in our hands all day. It’s sacraments are dopamine drips through a communion of ‘likes’ and screen scrolling. It’s worship is seen on the altar where authentic human relationships go to be sacrificed. Alienation has its own cathedrals built for one. It has its own hymns and liturgy and even ideology and emerging politics. The enlightened state of the religion of alienation is loneliness and ultimately, despair. This despair brings some to their own end at their own hands – the ultimate sacrifice.
“Contemporary man is alienated. He is alienated from the past because he has no cultural roots anymore. He’s been taught to despise the past. He is alienated from a real vibrant society – his social ties are thin and few. That shows up in his sexual habits which seem to have no meaning beyond that of the pleasure or the despair of the moment. He has very little connection with the natural world – the outside world.
If I could jump into Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, I would add one three letter word at the end… “Yes!”
Yes, there is someone out there, just like you. In fact millions, just like you. Human beings all over our world just wanting to connect in an authentic and meaningful way. But how do we overcome alienation that has become so pervasive?
It starts with a light switch. We begin by turning on the lights in the dark room for those who are lonely so they can see that there are others in the room.
We must recognize alienation and loneliness and label them as enemies of what is good, true and beautiful about the human experience. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. When humans don’t have connections, they can’t live meaningful lives of vibrance. We need relationships – we need each other. Our creator designed us to be in relationship.
We must restore what has been lost in this current lonely age.
If we do nothing, I fear that history will see this chapter as the loneliest in western culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it starts with you and me. Whether its the kitchen, the campfire or the nursing home on the holidays, we must be intentional about bringing life back to life. We bring hope and connection to the lonely lives of others and ourselves.
Restoration overcomes alienation. We must work to rescue one another from the cold grip of loneliness and despair. We restore lives through relationships.
To the haunting voice that asks, “Is there anybody out there?” We must break through self-built walls and shout, “Yes, we are here!” and “You are not alone!” and “God loves you and so do we!”
Now, go and do. The cure for alienation is real-life personal connection. That connection needs to be restored.
“And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26-28a)
The Bible says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” “It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham
What does it mean to be a man in this cultural moment?
This all boils down to answering the question, “what does it mean to be human?”
This is a worldview question and depending on one’s worldview, will render different answers.
Worldview answers these questions:
Metaphysical – what is real?
Epistemology – what is true?
Origin – where did I come from?
Meaning – does life have meaning?
Morality – what is right or wrong (good / evil)?
Destiny – what happens when I die?
Identity – who am I and does my life have purpose?
Every worldview must answer those questions in ways that correspond to reality and have coherence.
A secularist-atheist, Muslim, pantheist, Christian, etc will all answer these questions differently. Worldview drives behavior and how we see ourselves in our place in the world. What I believe about being a man in this cultural moment is shaped by my worldview. In the west, The contours of our body ethic are rooted in a worldview and philosophies emerging from Rome and Greece – that were both reshaped and reformed by Christian worldview.
As the Christian ethic is jettisoned for a more naturalistic / materialistic worldview, we don’t actually move toward something new, we move back to something old – Rome.
Therefore, this shift will change how we define our place and purpose in the world, man and woman.
I believe the definition of a man is rooted in biology, theology and character.
What does it mean to be a man?
He does not give in to passivity
He takes responsibility
He leads sacrificially
He defends the weak
He is a voice for the voiceless and a father to the fatherless.
He is faithful
He loves mercy and does justice
He loves well and leads well. (Notice none of these attributes have anything to do with a man’s physical strength, violence or abilities).
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)
Note: The content above was taken from a reply I wrote to a friend’s post on Facebook. This is an extension of my recent work in the Colson Fellows residency has helped me crystalize and communicate the contours of what shapes our worldview particularly in America today and our definition of man.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” continues to be relevant in our cultural moment. His words challenge the church to embrace it’s full purpose. The extent to which the Gospel of the Kingdom is proclaimed and integrated into the life of the church is the extent to which the church is relevant and effective in society.
The quiescent church is the gateway to injustice, brokenness and disorder. The witness of the church should be felt throughout the culture as the Gospel message empowers believers to pursue justice and reconciliation, serve the needy, create beauty and restore what is broken. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin transforms the believer. This Gospel, rightly lived out will teach, sanctify and transform the society in which believers dwell. It will be distinctly ‘sacrificial’, restorative and bold in its expression.
Martin Luther King Jr. operated from a distinctly Christian worldview. It informed his purpose, his view of reality and drove his behavior. This nation has benefited from his worldview and his actions. His challenge to the church echoes today. Dr. King knew what he was about. Do you know what you are about?
We know what our salvation saved us from (eternal separation from God’s presence, goodness and joy).
But a better question is;
What is our salvation for?
[Put another way, what is the purpose of our salvation?]
In times of cynicism, banality, negativity and outrage there are two kinds of people. There are those who race to the bottom and make things worse. Then, there are those who elevate the cultural conversation and take action.
A few bad actors don’t make an entire group of people bad.
Don’t judge a philosophy by its misuse.
What is meant for good can be used for evil and vice versa.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.
Worldview matters. A vital key to understanding reality is to know what is good, what is true and what is beautiful. Only when we know those core essentials can we create a vision of restoration and act on it. C.S. Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”
Engage reality – create solutions, combat evil, restore people and relationships.
Ask these four questions
1. What is good you can celebrate?
2. What is missing you can contribute or create?
3. What is evil you can stop?
4. What is broken you can restore?
Develop these three life skills
Wisdom (the art of living well in light of objective truth – in community, in our cultural moment)
Discernment (identifying the nature of things – good or evil)
Moral Courage (the will to stand for what is good, true and beautiful)
Goodness, truth and beauty find their source in God. When you look at a world in crisis, ask yourself; What is Good, True and Beautiful? When you experience brokenness, understand that it’s not supposed to be this way. Ask the four questions before racing to the bottom.
Elevate the conversation and respond with your heart set on restoration.
Practice – Training
Next time you sit with your family for dinner, ask each person to share something good, true and beautiful they’ve experienced today. Challenge them to focus on these things over the next week – to see their reality differently. When we know what is good, true and beautiful – we can frame solutions to all the bad stuff and negativity in our world. Our ministry is based on a good, true and beautiful God. Its from that foundation that we deal with sin, brokenness, evil and pain. Our mission is reconciliation and restoration.
*Note: The ideas in this post flow from Colson Fellows course study and talks given by John Stonestreet (Colson Center). I am thankful for those who stir the hearts and minds of men to think carefully in our culture.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.