This weekend I’m retreating to the woods with 85 women. We’re going to talk about one of my least favorite subjects: vulnerability. But I’m expecting great things because these are great women and I know that God will be present to us. We are carving out time from busy lives to rest, play, and care for our souls.
A new study by the University of Michigan reminds me why I retreat with others—beyond the promise of the spiritual discipline and beyond the love of my community. The study discovered what most of us already know: that “direct interactions with other human beings lead people to feel better.”
The researchers in this study were interested in finding out how Facebook use is affecting people’s well-being. They tried to measure levels of anxiety, loneliness, happiness, and satisfaction and found that “Facebook use led to declines in moment-to-moment happiness and overall life satisfaction.” The researchers suspect that the results might have something to do with the ills of social comparison, and found that face-to-face or phone interaction had the opposite effect on participants: they felt better after direct interaction with other people.
I felt better too, on Monday, when I put aside my phone and online-work to interact with my kids. My son and his friend wanted to teach me a header drill they had learned at camp. Truthfully, I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less than go to the park at dusk with thousands of mosquitoes and hit a muddy soccer ball with my head. But I did, and it was good for all of us, even when my daughter (accidentally?) whacked my son in the face and everyone squabbled over the last Nutty Buddy at the corner store.
We don’t have to look too far to recognize the problems that technology use is causing in the midst of its vast benefits. Our capabilities often exceed our vision. For example, this week the Trayvon Martin shooting was re-enacted in a gun control PSA. The NSA is embarrassed that it can’t identify which information Snowden took and shared. Goldman Sachs faces the loss of 100 million dollars over a technical glitch (no worries; it will probably be OK since they are among the President’s top campaign contributors.)
I’m not going to cancel my Facebook account today, but I know that there’s no substitute for the real thing, and I’m going for the real thing: connection with God and others. I’m going for peace and transformation and mission with God and others too. Since none of these things can just happen virtually, I’m looking forward to this weekend with my sisters.