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Memories aren’t always fond when they’re in the making. In fact, they they can be downright annoying as they’re created and then, with the passage of time, move from annoyance to something dear.

One of my fondest childhood memories–less than fond at the time–is the long post-dinner conversations that took place whenever my parents’ had people to dinner.

Conversation. Remember that? Lingering conversation over coffee or wine?

Social media has changed the way that we communicate and it is unequivocally lamentable. Jonathan Franzen points this out in his review of Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation:

By observing people’s interactions with robots, and by interviewing them about their computers and phones, she charted the ways in which new technologies render older values obsolete. When we replace human caregivers with robots, or talking with texting, we begin by arguing that the replacements are “better than nothing” but end up considering them “better than anything” — cleaner, less risky, less demanding. Paralleling this shift is a growing preference for the virtual over the real. Robots don’t care about people, but Turkle’s subjects were shockingly quick to settle for the feeling of being cared for and, similarly, to prefer the sense of community that social media deliver, because it comes without the hazards and commitments of a real-world community. In her interviews, again and again, Turkle observed a deep disappointment with human beings, who are flawed and forgetful, needy and unpredictable, in ways that machines are wired not to be.

Indeed, we human beings are remarkably disappointing–especially me. I am flawed, forgetful, and unpredictable. I can be moody, snarky, and generous–all on the same day.

I am a sinner. And I mean this not in any sort of self-loathing way, but simply an acknowledgement that I sin with amazing regularity.

I wonder if our woeful lack of self-knowledge is part of our inability to communicate. As Franzen reflects:

Conversation presupposes solitude, for example, because it’s in solitude that we learn to think for ourselves and develop a stable sense of self, which is essential for taking other people as they are.

If every conversation with another person, especially about the things that matter most, is an existential threat to our sense of self then no wonder we see the horrid things we produce in the comment boxes of blog posts.

I don’t have an answer to this problem save to suggest that we all move our lives off line and into one another’s living rooms, coffee shops, and bars.

We are, after all, only human.

Jeff Gissing

Jeff is director of discipleship at the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is married to Anna Moseley Gissing with whom he has two children, Nathan (6) and Eliza (4).

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