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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Do Our Virtual Relationships Make Us More Callous?

Newly appointed Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused quite an uproar with her recent decision to eliminate the work from home arrangements that many of the company's employees enjoy. The policy was announced in an internal memo that read, "To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo, and that starts with physically being together."

There is something unique and bonding about spending time with other people. Being a tech company, one would have expected Yahoo to extol the virtues and flexibility of the virtual office. However, Mayer is a smart CEO and she recognized that no matter what kind of technology she has at her disposal, it's never the same as being there.

It's not only job creativity or job efficiency that suffers from an overreliance of virtual exchanges. Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, in an opinion piece , describes a  recent event where two teenage boys took a drunk and nearly unconscious 16-year-old girl and decided to abuse her in nearly every way imaginable: stripped her naked in front of partygoers, urinating on her, and digitally penetrating her. When finding out that he could still stand trial for rape, one of the boys reacted by texting “I should have raped her now cos everyone thinks I did” to a friend. The friend's reply? “Yeh you should.”

While the brutality of these acts is shocking, what's even more disconcerting is the fact that the perpetrators lack of any type of remorse even now. What's worse is that the bystanders at the party chose to do nothing and the “friend” who received that text message recipient agreed with the perpetrator! How could so many young people become so callous? Ablow believes it is a result of teens consuming so much of the digital culture. He writes:

Having watched tens of thousands of YouTube videos with bizarre scenarios unfolding, having Tweeted thousands of senseless missives of no real importance, having watched contrived "Reality TV" programs in which people are posers in false dramas about love or lust or revenge, having texted millions of times, rather than truly connecting and having lost their real faces to the fake life stories of Facebook, they look upon the actual events of their lives with no more actual investment and actual concern and actual courage than they would look upon a fictional character in a movie.
Ablow may be onto something. We live in a society where fame is held up as the highest virtue. Kids post videos of themselves hoping to get more and more hits. People substitute status posts for having conversations. They gun down their friends on X-Box, complete with blood splatters and gory details. In such a world it is easy to see how people can cauterize their ability to empathize with another human being through an over emphasis on technology.

In the gospels, Jesus seems to value spending time together. He would frequently pull His disciples aside for a break from ministry. The early church placed a strong emphasis in koinonia, that is communion or fellowship. Hebrews warns us not to forsake our gathering together (Heb. 10:25), and we are told that our hope found in the promise of living with Jesus forever (Rom 6:8).

While I believe that modern tools can help us keep in touch with one another, I see many people—and particularly younger people who have never known a world without text messages and the Internet—substituting virtual togetherness for the real thing. I think that because we are created as both body and soul, there is a special something that connects us when we are with one another. Video chats or telephone calls are nice, but they are not the same thing as koinonia.  Because there is a barrier between the participants, they can only simulate human contact. What we need is less FaceTime and more face to face time with each other. Perhaps as we begin to really share ourselves with each other it will make us better at feeling what the other person feels. And I think we could use a little more empathy in the world today.

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