my world is too small. and too big.

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“Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” I don’t know what descriptors you would choose to describe this young adult generation, but a recently published study by the Pew Research Center lauds current 18- to 29-year-olds for optimism and adaptability in an age of economic uncertainty. I don’t know how much I agree with those labels; I certainly felt more pegged by Christian Smith‘s sociological observations of this generation as wandering and noncommittal. I was, however, very intrigued by the study’s comparisons of the Millennial Generation with preceding generations — in particular, what makes us, well, us. The study outlined a number of our generation’s distinguishing trademarks, including religious conviction, education, employment, political identity, and social values.

But our generation’s #1 self-professed distinguishing characteristic? Our use of technology.

In fact, no other generation came close to giving a unified response to their generation’s calling card compared with ours. Nearly 1 in 4 Millennials claimed our use of technology as our standout quality. “It’s not just their gadgets — it’s the way they’ve fused their social lives into them,” says the site’s executive summary of the report. We sleep next to our phones, use social media sites, text while driving — and are more likely to do these if we have a college education (see page 25). In addition, more Millennials than not think that our use of technology integrates people rather than isolating them.

I think such ubiquitous technological connectivity creates a complex problem for our self-identities. If the use of technology really is a distinguishing element for our generation — and the statistics in this study indicate that it is — then we won’t fit into our own worlds. Think about social media. Facebook and chat rooms and even blogs remove spatial barriers and connect us with people around the globe. My cell phone means that friends around the country are just a quick text away. And yet as connected as I am, my world becomes ridiculously small — about the size of my cell phone or my laptop.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I’ve been recognizing a lack of community in my life. I have been a part of some unbelievably close communities in the past, which can make the absence of a strong community even more difficult. My beautiful friend Heidi wrote about this recently. And I’ve realized that, for me anyway, social media gives an illusion of community that isn’t really there. I LOVE connecting with old friends on facebook. I appreciate the photos of new babies and weddings. But if these things distract me from investing in the living, breathing human beings around me, then it’s to my detriment. You might be thinking, “Duh,” (or something much more intellectual) but here’s the problem: most of my best friends in the world are accessible only through these mediums. And that’s where social media can become an attractive, seemingly viable way of maintaining some semblance of community.

But it occurred to me today that the deep communities in my life have always been just the right size. Somehow these crazy inventions called cell phones and laptops make my world both incredibly big and incredibly small. But my past communities — 14 girls in a dorm, 10 students in Gulfport, 7 friends in an apartment commune — have never been under or oversized. And I think that God fits those people around us. I’m not sure where he’ll bring them from this time — but I know they’ll be the perfect fit.

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2 responses »

  1. Sarah, my friend, you have a gift.
    I’ve been praying for community in this season, and have struggled with having faith that I am where I’m supposed to be, and that God will meet all of our needs, even this one. But all of my past communities have been exactly what I needed at the time, a void in my life that God was gracious enough to fill and fill abundantly. I love what you say about them being the perfect fit … true in so many ways.
    Love you!

  2. Very interesting and insightful . . . . I’ve noticed a similar effect in my own life. It seems like I have a difficult time sitting still and doing nothing, or just thinking. I find myself joining the ranks of ‘weekend warriors’ who desperately desire to get out in nature away from all the distractions.

    The purpose of technology is to make a given task easier (by making convenient the task itself or giving you more knowledge to work with). But it seems that the line between using technology effectively to help achieve broader goals and using technology for its own sake becomes blurred. And I’ve found one side of the line to be satisfying, and the other to be deeply unsatisfying. Do we anticipate the release of Apple’s newest gizmo because we really believe it will add substantial value to our lives and our work? Or is it just fun to want new things?

    iPads, iPhones, and iMacs will never be able to beat the feeling of the second straight Settlers of Catan game with three of your best friends, or of summer games of barefoot frisbee in a big grassy field right before dusk.

    Thanks for reminding us to pursue community.

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