I recently came across an interesting term: “alone together.” When I read that, I was instantly curious as to what it meant, although I had quite a few of my own interpretations right away. With respect to the woman from whom I found this term, I’ll tell you as much as I know of what she has to say about it first, then I’ll give some of my own thoughts.
Her name is Sherry Turkle, and she is an author, a professor, a licensed clinical psychologist, and has a joint doctorate in sociology and personality psychology from Harvard University. So, needless to say she is smart. She’s also been studying social media, digital culture, and our changing relationships for over 30 years. So, once again, she’s smarter than me and has more to say about this than I do. I’ve never read anything she’s written, but by her term “alone together” I have already experienced more clarity in something I wrestle with internally all of the time. With all of that being said, here is what I think.
We live in an ever-increasingly more global society. Each day our world gets smaller and smaller and people get closer and closer to each other’s lives. I can quite literally find out what someone is doing at this very moment, if they’re engaged with any type of social media. If they write blogs, I can keep up with their journal of thoughts and struggles. If they’re on Twitter, I can see their daily activities, who they’re talking to, and what they think about certain issues or topics they care (or don’t care) about. If they’re on Facebook, I can see pictures of them from when they were children, when they went on vacation, and when they were partying at the club.
All of these things being true, what do I have to show for all of the people I am “close” to? My engagement with them is (or may be) limited to my fingers tapping on a machine to tell them what I want them to hear. I may “follow” someone on Twitter, but I’ve never in my life seen their face. I may not know what their voice sounds like, what kind of facial expressions they have, or anything about the way they carry themselves.
Now, I’m not trying to put away social media altogether. Of course, I am utilizing a platform right now, and I am a monster fan of Twitter. Facebook is, well, it’s Facebook. So don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved my experiences with social media, and I am a proponent of the multiple avenues we now have to connect with the world. But there is a sense of being “alone together” when people can gather online and “talk” while sitting in their bedrooms alone. It’s interesting.
What is the antidote? What’s the answer that solves this problem? Well, it’s absolutely not more self-imposed willpower; more extroverted-fueled people-surrounded environments. We can’t fool ourselves into solving our problems of loneliness in and of ourselves. We do need others. We do need community. We do need connections with people. But more important than all of those is our need for connection with God. God can do what no one else can do. We need the Holy Spirit to do what He is so good at – bring us out of our darkness and into the light. That Light is Jesus. Our own darkness and loneliness can’t be cured by more and more accumulation of friends and tweets and blogs. Jesus came into this world to shine light into the darkness, and many of us are all too familiar with the darkness of our own loneliness.
The answer? It may seem unconnected to the initial problem of being “alone together”, but it’s the only way to begin to erase the word alone and simply be together. Healing from the sense of being alone together begins with seeing a glimpse of that Light through the darkness. Surrounding ourselves with a community of people who won’t allow us to be “alone together” with them is crucial. But those people are only a means through which the Light is shone. God is the source. The One who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the One who knows your depth of loneliness, understands it because He’s experienced it on the cross, and is willing to bear that darkness with you in order to show you the Light of being known and loved.