AC: It is this incredible thing. And, you know, the the idea of wiring, although it’s drawn from computers, it’s close to the truth, in the sense that built into our neurons, you know, which are transmitters of chemical and electrical signals, built into our neurons is the capacity for and the need to have another person or other persons over time, pay attention to us, respond to us, mirror back to us who we are. And you know, a generation ago, even when I was born, I’m in my 50s now, doctors might well have told a mother who was giving birth, oh, your child really is a blank slate. Like they just come into the world, you know, they won’t do anything very interesting for a while. And we now know this is so not true. That babies arrive, and literally in the moments after birth, they open their eyes. And they can’t focus their eyes, they don’t have the muscles to focus, you know, to adjust the focus of their eyes. But their eyes are built to focus if they’re a normal sighted baby, six to eight inches away, which is exactly where a baby is when the mother is holding the child. And, and when a baby sees a face, I mean you can see it on their face, they pay attention. They focus on it. And then studies of this show, literally, neurologically, you’re like lighting up, your brain is ready to see a face the moment you’re born. So I start the book that way, because I want us to keep in mind, like what we most need as human beings is this connection with other persons. We absolutely require it to survive. And I actually think it’s something that is a bit in peril and in danger in our technological world, is so many people kind of miss out whether early in life or later in life on that recognition we all need.
WS: Yeah, and that also provides context for another key point that you make fairly early in the book, but I think, I would say pervades the book. And that is this idea that with technology, with the growth and the ubiquity of technology in our lives and in our culture, there also comes this pathology or this condition of loneliness that has also become ubiquitous in our culture, as well. In other words, this deep need for recognition, which now we too often satisfy with technology, which is not really an appropriate satisfaction of that need – it’s impersonal and and not proximate and all of the rest – has created this pervasive loneliness in our culture. You quote for example, Ben Sasse, and others to make that point. Can you, can you say a little more about this idea of loneliness?
AC: Yeah, I mean, if you imagine what, what it was like, not that long ago. I mean, a few generations ago, you would live in a world where every day, you’d be interacting with other people to get things done. Like that, that’s the only way human beings got things done was together, often in fairly stable communities. And then of course, you’d have animals that you worked with, and animals recognize us as well, domesticated animals do. And you, you would also live, if you lived back in the kind of fully Christianized era of Western history, you would live in a world that you saw as personal. You believed you were in a world made by a God who was known as Father and you were part of that whole system, and everything you saw around you was somehow a reflection of God. All those things have been eroded by technology. So first, modernity started to lose the idea that the world was a personal place inherently. And we started to think of the world in terms of kind of, you know, Newton’s science, that was much more like a machine, like a clock. And then we started using machines to get a lot things done. And that means we have fewer, I don’t know, you know, I won’t get into this in the book, but I think it’s kind of striking, we have very lot fewer animals in our lives, actually. The other fewer creatures around us that we care for, starting from when we’re children, and then in the way that agricultural households would have done. And then we start to be able to get things done without actually being in the presence of persons. So we’ve lost the personal world. We’ve lost our connection to kind of these fellow creatures that we have a responsibility for. And then we have, we’ve lost the kind of face to face relationships that human beings have always had. And we have these substitutes, and, but there’s a big difference between personalized and personal. So my devices are very, I mean, they recognize me now. You know, I look at my phone, and it recognizes my face. But that is not the same thing. As you know, even seeing your face on Zoom. And we’ve met, we’ve been together a few times in person, and I remember you and you remember me. But Zoom is a thin version of a thing that every human being needs to thrive. And, and because we have these simulations, or these substitutes, and because we can get a lot done with them, more and more of us live more and more of our lives actually cut off in all these dimensions from what we were actually made for, I think, which is ultimately love. I mean, we’re made for love we’re made, and that starts with recognition and presence with other people.
Read it all.