I Marginalize My Father Through Technology

I have not sent an email to my dad in more than 6 years.

We’re not facebook friends, he doesn’t follow me on twitter, and he doesn’t get updates about our kids.

This is not because I don’t love him or because I never see him or because never talk to him. No, the reason is as simple as it is tragic – my dad is not legally allowed to use the Internet (for reasons I will not discuss here).

Practically, this meant that when our children were born, I could not immediately share a photo of them with him. Just hours after they were born, our friends saw photos of our kids through facebook and email. But it wasn’t until several weeks later when the craziness slowed down, that I took the time to print the photos, put them in an envelope, take them to the post office, and put them in the mail drop.

It took forever.

Likewise, when I write articles that I’m proud of, I have to make physical copies of the pages, … put them in an envelope, … take them to the post office … and so on.

Sometimes I never get around to it.

As I said, we talk on the phone, and he comes to visit every now and again, but sadly my dad is disconnected from the daily events of my life that I share online with so many others so easily. I am a citizen of the Internet, and that is where and how I share much of my thoughts, ideas, and work. But my father – the one whom I am commanded to honor – cannot enter into that world and is not permitted to speak its language.

What Would You Do?

Imagine for a moment about what it would be like to have one of your most important relationships severed technologically. How would you relate to a person that cannot use the mediums with which you are most familiar? How do you love someone that cannot communicate in your language?

Would it be worth the effort to reach back in technological time to connect with them?

While the technological “disconnect” most people experience is probably not as literal as what has happened between my dad and me, I think it’s also possible to create a gradual separation just by using mediums that those close to us do not. My guess is that over time many of our relationships become severed not by design or intention, but simply because of “medium drift.” Even my own wife, a vastly more intelligent and lovely person than myself, sometimes resorts to checking my various social media outlets to see what I’ve been up to and find out things I have neglected to share in person.

In such cases, I’ve let my fascination with new technological mediums determine the order of my loves. When I run to the latest tools and pour too much of myself into them, I leave others behind. Instead of actively and intentionally deciding which of my relationships matter the most, and then acting out of that priority, I allow my tools to dictate who knows what about me.

So my recommendation would be to take a few moments and make a list of the relationships that are most important to you. Then consider how you communicate and spend time with those people and see if that is out of sync with how much time you spend communicating online to people you barely know through mediums you personally enjoy.

Speaking of which, I’ve just spent 20 minutes writing this post to a lot of people I don’t know personally which reminds me – I need to go call my dad.

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

7 thoughts on “I Marginalize My Father Through Technology”

  1. “In such cases, I’ve let my fascination with new technological mediums determine the order of my loves. When I run to the latest tools and pour too much of myself into them, I leave others behind. Instead of actively and intentionally deciding which of my relationships matter the most, and then acting out of that priority, I allow my tools to dictate who knows what about me.

    So my recommendation would be to take a few moments and make a list of the relationships that are most important to you. Then consider how you communicate and spend time with those people and see if that is out of sync with how much time you spend communicating online to people you barely know through mediums you personally enjoy.”

    Wow….

    I must love you a lot if you are coming over to my house for Thanksgiving :-)

  2. This situation speaks to a number of interesting facets of the techno-life. One is that given technologies like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, we go with a “push” mentality. That is, we’re satisfied with pushing information to the general broadcast methods (inexact terminology, but I’ll go with it for now) we’ve picked. That means we’re putting expectations on others that they will follow those broadcast methods.

    I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

  3. I am cut off from my parents as well when it comes to technology. It’s not out of trying, I believe it comes down to their priorities. They don’t embrace change as much as “we” or “others” do; so communication was primitive until recently. I believe they sensed “medium drift” the connection they could get with a Skype call at bedtime or a daily update on Facebook.

    Coming from a very tight-nit family it was hard when I moved from the Mid-Atlantic States to the Midwest, I felt cut off from the people I loved immensely. Technology has shortened the gap, but it doesn’t fill the void like the physical.

    There is something romantic about “writing letters” and “the postal service,” I think it’s the anticipation and deep connection one has with recipient. It’s something I greatly miss and something as I look towards 2011 I want to rekindle. Because now more than ever we live in a Relationship Economy, where relationships are the true currency of today’s generation.

  4. I have to agree with the idea that in many cases using these new mediums “disconnect” us from experiences. I am also plugged into the Internet 24/7. Through my work, social networking, keeping up with my children’s activities. It never ends! It scares me to think, “What happens if it all shuts down?!” Gasp!

    I recently took on this experiment: I deleted everyone off my Facebook that lives in a 20-mile radius. Yes, you can imagine the email I received. I even still have one friend that is a bit bitter. However, I responded to them all. Facebook is wonderful for networking with old business contacts that you might need in the future. It is great for staying in contact with those old friends that live thousands of miles away. It is not good for staying interwoven in the lives of people that we should be spending time with face to face. I have to say it has been a really great kick off to the holiday season. My husband and I have had dinner with several friends that we haven’t seen in months – all because we take for granted that we are keeping in touch via Facebook. I have also had lunch with a couple of my girlfriends whom I have not seen in some time. So, I guess that brings me back to the question: was social networking really disconnecting us?

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