Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Always On, Never With

  • Dr. James Emery White

    The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

    James Emery Whiteis the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and…

  • Updated Aug 02, 2012

I recently tweeted an article from the Los Angeles Times about the number of “distracted walking” injuries quadrupling over the last seven years.

In case you aren’t aware, “distracted walking” refers to those landing in emergency rooms thanks to injuries incurred while “walking and texting, tweeting, playing video games, talking on the phone, or listening to music on headphones.”

This isn’t the only fallout from a culture that is “always on.”

For one thing, it’s made us impatient. 

Do you remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds – yes, seconds! – for a computer to respond to a click on a website? Now, we aren’t willing to wait even 400 milliseconds. According to Google engineers, that “barely perceptible delay” actually “causes people to search less.” In fact, 250 milliseconds slower or faster are what separate competing websites.

More significantly, it’s ending conversation. Not communication, mind you, but conversation

Which means the end of authentic community.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T., has spent the last decade and a half studying how our “always on” lives have changed who we are. 

Her conclusion?

“We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation,” she writes. “But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places. … But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.”

The end result?


As Stephen Marche writes, “We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”

The solution begins, of course, in the home. The family is the foundational unit of community and relationship. It’s where conversation (and as a result, community) is both taught and nurtured. It’s where real, personal interaction should happen most frequently and most deeply.

As a pastor, I’ve long recommended a weekly “family day” or “family night” where the schedule is cleared for the family to be together. Such times will never just “happen.” They must be created. 

Now I tend to be more specific.

When you sit down for that family meal, no texting

When you get in the van to drive somewhere for that family outing, no videos

When you’re taking that walk together as a family in the park, no tweeting.

When you’re sitting next to them on the bench watching that soccer game, no checking e-mail.

When you are watching that football game as a family, no Facebook.

When you are doing anything together as a family, no iPods, iPads or iPhones.


It’s simple.

If you’re always “on,” you can never be “with.”

James Emery White



“Number of 'distracted walking' injuries quadruple in 7 years,” Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times, July 30, 2012. Read online.

“For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long to Wait,” Steve Lohr, The New York Times, February 29, 2012. Read online.

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

“The Flight from Conversation,” Sherry Turkle,The New York Times, Sunday, April 21, 2012. Read online.

“Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?,” Stephen Marche, The Atlantic, May 2012. Read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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