I read recently about the human craving for connection in an excellent book about small group ministry. The authors pointed to niche support communities for diet and fitness as examples. While I agreed with the gist of their point, I’m concerned about their consistent use of the word connection.  

When they wrote of our craving for connection, I suspect the authors were really writing about our desire for community– for conversation in relationships, and I’m not sure these words are synonymous.

Connection is a metaphor, and it evokes images of humans connecting like digital devices. Just imagine an HDMI port at the base of your neck.

In her 2015 book, Reclaiming Conversation, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argued that connection as we generally understand it is virtual, frictionless, and disembodied, while conversation involves a richer, more nuanced, employment of time and effort. Thus described, conversation includes the contexts of tone and facial expression, of meals and awkward moments.[1]

On one hand, connection offers great opportunities for developing relationships. We can communicate with friends and family across time zones. In the time I might spend with someone over coffee (that proverbial beverage of true discipleship) I might be able to connect with five others- at the same time!

On the other hand, this kind of connection can easily overwhelm us. Since it costs us almost nothing to message someone online, we don’t often realize the cumulative costs of receiving such communication by the minute. We can also develop the mistaken impression that all of these tweets, comments, likes, and texts add up to deepened relationships.

There is no easy solution to this kind of problem, but I’d like to propose a strategy that can help us wisely choose how we do life with others: look at your digital connection as a means to supporting real-time relationships. If you find that 99 percent of your relationships are mediated online, you are missing out on the rich and costly blessings that come from face-to-face conversation with others.

[1] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism (New York: Penguin Random House, 2019), 144-145.

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