Does the social network work?

Does the social network work?

Technology. Bringing us together. One social network, or iGadget, at a time. In a world ruled by the unstoppable ability to contact everyone, we are no longer a world. We’re a village. A tiny community of billions. Who doesn’t have more friends and followers than they can poke at?

Earth — the 2014 model — seems to be the best connected place. Ever. Intimately linked-in. Abundantly updated. Always sharing. Surely, in our communicative community, we are one, though many?

Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Screenplay, inventive Her is a relationship examination set in the near-future. It easily could be set today, if certain technology was widely available. But the setting can’t disguise that Her is about us. And the sad irony of living life through digital networking.

Joaquin Phoenix (Gladiator, Walk The Line) stars as everyday dweeb Theodore. He works for a company which manufactures private letters — for paying customers. Heading for divorce, Theodore’s life is isolated. Like plenty around him, Theodore hardly talks to others. He talks to himself. Well, he talks with the operating system that runs his computerised existence (which he is constantly bluetoothed to).

Theodore buys a new operating system. One with artificial intelligence — and Scarlett Johansson’s voice. As the sultry software develops a personality, opinions and ‘feelings’, Theodore enters something like a deep relationship. He doesn’t have much to do with real people. Many others are similar, in the near-future setting of Her. They retreat from personal contact, as they become intimately connected to their personalised OS (operating system).

Her isn’t science fiction. No other contemporary film has encapsulated so well the destructive potential within the situation of our relationships being driven by technology. Among Her’s subtle and insightful comments, big questions about community are raised by Theodore drifting from real-world interaction, into virtual relationships.

Remind you of anyone? Probably, because living life online already affects real community. From the cult of selfies to staring at a screen while someone is talking to us, our genuine interest in others is eroding. Do we really — or virtually — care? Personal connection can be a casualty of impersonal connection. Isolation and loneliness are predictable outcomes of the ways we control interaction.

The detached contact we increasingly participate in should meet its match in Christianity. After all, community is in Christianity’s DNA. The bond forged by saving faith in Jesus is trumpeted in the New Testament. Every single Christian is a ‘fellow citizen’ in the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).

Wow. Talk about close-knit. By definition, being a Christian fuses you with other Christians. Like bricks in one building, or parts of one body, as Ephesians also describes this unified collective.

Too often, Christians act the opposite. Division, hostility and disdain dominate. Unity vanishes. But imagine the support, joy, strength, compassion and impact if Christians lived out what they are? Turn to Acts 2:41-47 for how glorifying God and selfless living can actually happen.

Christians are a community bonded by the most powerful force in the universe. Nothing, not even technology, can shatter that. In stark contrast to the fragmented future predicted by Her, Christians should embrace how deeply, eternally connected they already are.

Ben McEachen




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