The Millennial Generation (those born after 1981) is growing up in a whole new world when it comes to rules of social engagement. They do not tend to view technology as simply a resource to enhance communication – they see it as the lifeblood of their relationships. And with this comes many dangers. Some of the obvious ones are being too trusting and vulnerable with someone you hardly know, and the ramifications of that, to full blown internet addictions. Facebook, texting, and e-mail can create the illusion of intimacy where there is in reality only the most superficial of connections. Many individuals cannot function without their cell phone in their hands or right next to them. They text while walking down the aisle of a grocery store, during church, even while sitting talking with someone in person. For many, the internet is not just a connection to the outside world – it is their real world. They need to constantly see who has texted or commented on their Facebook post in order to feel needed and important. Their virtual world is a substitute for what is lacking in the real here-and-now world. In the virtual world they can project only what they want others to believe about them – an overly positive, yet incomplete, image. They post only the most flattering pictures, showcase their best achievements, and present themselves in only the most positive light. And others are doing that with them as well. Is it any wonder that Facebook is cited by Loyola University Health System as a factor in one out of every five divorces? How can a real life in the flesh spouse measure up to the picture perfect “friend” discovered in the virtual world?
Please don’t misunderstand my view of technology. The internet has indeed enhanced our abilities to communicate – when we use it wisely. But let us be careful not to find our significance there. Our best and real connections are with that person – that spouse – the significant other that is sitting right in front of you. Focus on them. Why not try this week to begin making it a practice to re-order your relational priorities: faces – voices –virtual. In other words – when you are with a person, put the phone and the computer aside. Give your first attention to people in the present. Make connecting with voices – talking with people by phone your second priority. And thirdly, give your attention to the virtual world. Who in your world – your real in the flesh world – needs your uninterrupted attention today?