Over the past nine years, YouTube sensation Julian Smith has entertained audiences with his hilarious short sketches, original music, and wry sense of humor. His channel currently has over 1,800,000 subscribers. He’s gone on to write and direct commercials, as well as beginning a podcast called Spellbound. Sometimes his videos are just crazy, but many of them contain interesting social messages. In this sketch, Julian looks at the addiction people have to the Internet and technology.
“Why didn’t you just text it to me?”
Getting beyond the farce, this video reminds many of us of our living rooms. The TV is on (no one is really watching it, it’s just on for background noise), everyone is on their smartphones or looking at a tablet. No one is talking or communicating with each other. Each person is in their own little world, carrying on their own quest for connection with the broader world.
With infinite information technology at our fingertips, we can find the answers to virtually any question we want to ask, see what’s going on all over the world, and search anyone on the planet. If we are bored, we can text our friends to see what they are doing, check out the latest video on YouTube, or view scandalous celebrity gossip. We can update our Instagram to let everyone know how we are feeling at the moment or what we had for lunch. And we can do all of this without ever looking up from the screen. Everything is available to us, and everything is interesting . . . except, it seems, for the people right in front of us. We’re all guilty.
“I feel so alone”
What we long for is connection. Human beings were made to be in relationships, not just with God, but with other human beings. And when we aren’t in relationships, we don’t feel right. However, relationships with human beings are messy. Humans, because of their fallen natures, can be angry, prideful, snobbish, and just downright hard to live with. Not to mention all the other little things that people do that annoy each other. We all have firsthand experience with how difficult relationships are. We’ve seen broken friendships and broken marriages. We know the mess that relationships can create. Indeed, as Julian warns, “It’s not safe out there!”
To fill the void, we hop on the Internet or social media. It’s easier. We don’t have to talk face to face with someone. We don’t have to have a deep conversation. We can post about all the cool things we are doing and all of our friends will stare in wonder. It makes us feel good for a minute when we see the thumbs up on our posts or we get a response back from a text.
But we still feel empty. Just because you’ve seen someone’s pictures on Instagram doesn’t mean that you know what’s going on in their life. Most people don’t post about the bad things that happen to them. Few people posts pictures of death or brokenness. If they do, the rest of us shudder and think they’re weird. Sometimes it’s easier to share your happy feelings with the whole world than it is to share your hurt in a one-on-one conversation.
“I changed my whole outlook on life”
The narrative of the video is interrupted by “Joe,” who has gone outside for the first time since 1996. He inspires Chester to break free and head outside. For Chester, standing up (or “jogging”) is a profound moment. He’s making the effort to break free from technological addiction, get out into the world, and see the sunshine. Many of us want to do this, but usually, we just end up sitting back down and using our technology with a great sigh of relief.
Technology has brought many positive changes into our world. Even if you don’t agree with that, in order to function in most jobs, you have to use it. But that doesn’t mean we have to use it irresponsibly. If we are going to use technology well, we’re going to have to change our outlook on life. We’re going to have to recognize that what is most important is not what’s happening out there on the web, but what’s happening right here in our living rooms. It’s not how many friends we have on Facebook, but the people around us right now who really matter.
Often times we don’t bother to talk with the people in our house because we think that they aren’t really all that interesting anyway. G. K. Chesterton exploded this myth in one of his best essays. He argues that it is the people who are closest to us that are actually most interesting. “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world . . . The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”¹
When we are on social media, we choose our friends. If we don’t like someone, we don’t befriend them, or we don’t answer their texts. But our family and neighbors are hard to avoid. As Chesterton argues, “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.”² To get to know our friends and neighbors is truly adventurous because we can’t control and manage face-to-face interactions.³ We weren’t made to control people, but to know them.
The command to love our neighbors means that we need to put down our devices for a minute and really get to know the people in our house or our neighbors next door. Give it a shot this week. You may find yourself swept along on your own adventure.
This Article Corresponds To:
- Understanding the Culture, chapter 6.2: “The Benefits and Drawbacks of Technology”
- Understanding the Culture curriculum, unit 6, pp. 141–144
Possible Discussion Starters:
- What are some potential pitfalls and dangers of technology?
- Why do you think people turn to technology for connection, rather than having face-to-face interactions?
- How can you form better habits regarding the technology in your home?
- “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family” – G. K. Chesterton
- Video: “Connected, but alone?” – Sherry Turkle
- “How to Become a Tech-Wise Family” – Andy Crouch
- The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place – Andy Crouch
- Screens and Teens – Kathy Koch
- G. K. Chesterton, “On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family” in Heretics (Nashville, TN: Sam Torode Book Arts, 1905), 77.
- Ibid., 80.
- Ibid., 83-84.