Posts tagged #technological society

A Facebook Fast: from loneliness to love

Guest blog by Nathan Hunt, co-host of


Just over a year ago I was lonely and discouraged.

Stranded in a new city with no friends, an unreasonable amount of work to do on my thesis, and a couple challenging months into marriage, I spun my wheels in search of connection. Though I rarely posted or interacted with the comments swirling through my feed, I sat longer and longer staring at Facebook.

In several of his works, Henri Nouwen draws a distinction between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness, he says, is a place of isolation where the compulsive self vainly searches for validation. “Who am I?” he asks in The Way of the Heart:

“I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised. Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by my world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money...The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same — more work, more money, more friends.”

If loneliness is the outcome of connection stripped of love, then solitude is its opposite: the choice to disconnect in order to commune fully with Love.

Or in the world of the millennial — more likes, more shares, more comments. But today’s post is lost in the algorithms of tomorrow’s trend, and affirmation without genuine connection could hardly be more fleeting.

So I found myself, for the first time really, in a sustained battle with anger. This anger was not so much the direct result of my time on social media, so much as my anger and time on social media were both reflective of the broader state of loneliness and disconnection into which my heart had fallen.

Again, Nouwen helps me make sense of the spiritual-psychology underneath all this.

"These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of a secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated."

If loneliness is the outcome of connection stripped of love, then solitude is its opposite: the choice to disconnect in order to commune fully with Love.

Without any real thoughtfulness or fanfare — and so, I assume, by the grace of God — I pulled the plug. For the next eight months, I was completely removed from social media and began the slow transition from loneliness to solitude.

And what a liberation it was! It may be that for twenty-first century people, enmeshed in financial and familial connections and responsibilities, simply removing ourselves from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts is the closest we can come to the desert of the monastic fathers.

Three things happened for me almost right away.

  1. I discovered that a large part of my self-representation was functioning through this digitized, one-dimensional version of myself projected through my “profile.” I realized that even though I wasn't a heavy user relative to many, I still stressed about how I was viewed, the kind of "witness" I was having, how frequently I stuck up for justice, mentioned Jesus, proved that I was still outdoorsy, etc, etc. Leaving Facebook, I was freed to simply be Nathan through my body — through my words and actions in physical presence with others.

  2. I was released from believing that Facebook politicizing and opinion-sharing is authentic (or essential) engagement with the struggles of human beings and this world. I focused instead on showing up physically at political demonstrations, in relationship with the marginalized, or a hurting friend's side. I gravitated toward deeper research than trending articles and embraced real conversation.

  3. I found myself engaging more directly with friends and family (though I still have a lot of work to do on this one!). I sent more personal emails, made more phone calls, chatted on Skype, tried to initiate more coffees.

Facebook can be a tool for good. I’m happy to acknowledge that -- in fact, my organization is currently winning significant rights for homeless people in Denver thanks to a viral Facebook video. But for my personal life, it increasingly failed to cultivate genuine relationship, wasted my time, and raised my stress levels. Most importantly, Facebook entangled me in worldviews that increasingly conformed my mind and behavior to patterns other than Christ’s. As a tool of discipleship, it only led me further from the cruciform life I crave.

Leaving Facebook, I was freed to simply be Nathan through my body — through my words and actions in physical presence with others.

Eventually I came back.

My wife and I wanted to share wedding pictures. I wanted to let people know about a new website and blog I was launching (shameless plug). My job wanted me involved in communications.

But I have not come back the same.

Facebook has not held the same grasp over my identity. My compulsive checking and rechecking has almost faded completely. And my solution to loneliness and self-affirmation seems to rest much more consistently in a different Source.

But the siren song is loud. The noise of the political season fought hard to draw me back into old patterns and contrary habits.

It may be time to disengage again, if only to reconnect with this world and the source of love.

Posted on December 30, 2016 .

Living into Focus

Book Review:

Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions
- Arthur Boers

The title captures well what the book is about. It is well written, a good mix of personal reflection by the author, examples from his life and the lives of others, and insights from thinkers like Ellul and Borgman. The author brings big ideas of cultural criticism down to practical, day to day issues and habits of my life. I use quotes from the book in a few different D & E classes and have added chapter seven as a reading for the course.

A few memorable quotes:

“We have allowed our technology to outrun our theology” - MLK Jr. (69)  

“The issue is not technology itself but the reality that we often do not reflect on how we are affected and formed by our use of it.”

“Machines grow quieter, but we use more of them and so add to the noise. Devices are increasingly energy efficient, but we employ so many that we end up using more power than ever. While computers and online connections get faster, the time we spend on them keeps going up. The better we are at responding to e-mail, the more we are inundated by it.” (70)

“Too often our interactions with technology follow a predictable trajectory: because it is available we use it, then we think it is normal, and finally we expect or even demand that others employ it as well.” (71)

“People must be taught not to want leisure but to desire possessions.” - Henry Ford (144)

“When unclear about fundamental priorities, urgency becomes the default position.” (192)

I encourage you to read the book and, as I did, look for one or two new things to integrate into your life. Small changes can have big impacts on the whole.


Posted on November 23, 2015 and filed under book reviews.

Presence in an Age of Absence

During the first five or so years I taught Discipleship and Ethics, some students would push back and argue with me during the technique/technology class—they wanted to defend the use of technology. Following Ellul, I made the point that I was not attacking specific technologies. Rather, my concern was society’s general shift to adopt any tool or technique that was perceived to be more efficient without reflecting critically on its potential alienating impact.

The push-back no longer happens. 

No student has argued against my general thesis in that class session for years. At one level it is counter-intuitive. Students today use much more technology than in 2000 when cell phones were not ubiquitous, and there were no smart phones, tablets, etc. One would think that students would feel much more defensive today. But they are not. My sense is that no one pushes back now because, in their being, they feel the alienation that Ellul describes. They feel the truth. They have no problem filling the white board with both positive and negative effects of efficient technologies in their lives. This shift from push-back to no-resistance is like a carbon monoxide detector going off. Something has changed. The danger level has increased. What are we doing to let in fresh air and lessen the toxins?

Two years ago I added a new assignment after the class on technique. I ask students to do the following and write a reflection letter on the experience: 

Choose a day in the week ahead for a fast from electronic communication (cell phone/mobile devices, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and any other internet based forms of communication). You may choose the length of the fast, all day would be ideal, but less than that is acceptable.

It has proven to be a powerful assignment. Here are a few examples of common reflections:

“I began to see that all my efficiency is at the expense of something I hold dear...relationships.”  

“I felt a sense of freedom that I have not felt in a while; actually, I felt human. The world does not hang on my shoulders; it will not fall apart if I do not answer the phone. My relationship with my wife felt a lot more profound even though we didn’t talk much but simply enjoyed each other’s presence. My time felt abundant and the day went by less faster.”

“It was a struggle to wrestle with how I can reduce the control technique has over me when I live in a society that is conditioning me to rely on technique.” 

“To my great surprise, this day felt like a day off. The irony was that I did a lot of work, but it felt like a day off. I enjoyed the fact that I did not have to continually check my phone, wondering if I had missed a text from someone that I might need to get back to. I did not need to check my Facebook or e-mail. I did not have to see the blue light of a computer or kindle or tv screen. I did not have to be controlled by anyone else’s convenience nor did I feel compelled to initiate a question or conversation with someone I felt obligated to. I did not feel bad or guilty for a conversation not happening.”

“I realized how often I check my phone for calls and emails. [I] would reach for the phone only to remember it wasn't in my pocket.”

“In my most consumed moments of social media and technology there are instances where I become aware that I am looking for something. I ask myself in that moment: what am I looking for? What do I need right in this moment that I think social media can fill? Is it friendship? A connection? Personal meaning? Motivation? Am I avoiding something? Am I seeking attention? Recognition?”

“The first thing I felt: Addicted.”

“I discovered I thought I could be in two places at once.  I believed I could be on the floor playing with one of my daughters and also responding to a question via my phone.  This is not true, the moment I pick up my phone I am no longer in the same space my daughter is in.”

“I now realize just how much of a priority I give to these forms of communication without even realizing what control it has on me. I had to literally lock my phone away because I was finding that I would just naturally look at it without thinking. Why has this become such an addiction?”

Some students also shared action steps they planned to take such as turning off their phones at a set hour each evening, having a no-phones-at-the-table rule during family meals, not carrying their phone at home—treating it like a land line, or committing to regular fasts.

I encourage you to try a fast, or do it again. 

Share what you learn and ideas on how to lessen communication technologies’ alienating power in our lives in the comment section below.

In recent years we have listened to part of a college chapel talk by Shane Hipps. He tells a moving story about the significance of presence and ends with the following statement that I encourage you to reflect on today:  

“The digital age has taught us that our presence doesn’t matter. . . God became flesh and lived among us. We all have bodies too.  . . Something about presence matters. . . May we become God’s presence in a world of absence, in a world desperate for that kind of tangible presence.”


Posted on October 27, 2015 .