Posted by: jhvn | 01/27/2013

Technology and the Fear of Lonliness

Two brightly colored backpacks were sitting on a near-by table when I sat down for lunch recently at Panera’s. Two slim teenage girls arrived shortly with their trays of lunch (large pastry and a soda!). As soon as they sat down they silently took computers from their backpacks, and one also took out a cell phone. They barely looked at each other as they focused attention on the computers, casually grabbing a bite and a drink. Occasionally they did look up, but they didn’t appear to engage with each other at all. Their attention focused on their computers and the one cell phone.

This geezer wondered, 1) how could they retain their slim profiles with such lunches of sugar; and 2) what kind of relationship did they really have with each other?

As a teenager I was no social butterfly, but I did have a few good friends. Although I never went out to lunch with friends, I enjoyed school lunches with them talking about all sorts of things – personal, academic, and technological (I was a radio geek in the 1940s) – as well as using a straw as a blow gun to shoot bits of apple at unsuspecting kids standing in line near our table.

I was experimenting with making connections with other kids – trying to alleviate my own deep loneliness and fear of intimacy.

How can I develop enough finesse to negotiate the shoals of relationship, so I can connect with others, yet avoid the pain of rejection?

Children and adults all agonize over that dilemma. I did it with straw blow guns and lots of talk. The girls in Panera were doing it with social media and little contact with each other.

This geezer doesn’t quite get how I managed to cut the apron strings to my parents. I was only 23 years old, when I did manage to snag and marry Pat, a beautiful, smart, deep, loving woman. However those apron bonds held me for many years until they slowly frayed and finally let go. Perhaps I just transferred my emotional attachments to Pat as the apron strings were fraying. Only when those bonds no longer held me, could I genuinely nurture a marriage with Pat for nearly 59 years until she died, through about five different “marriages”, and raise 3 wonderful sons together  – one example of a complex, thriving, mature relationship.

So this geezer shakes his head at the new-fangled social media which gives the illusion of many “friends”, while engaging in little real friendship. The electronic gadgets seem to imitate relationships by chatter and tweets, while avoiding genuine human contact with its consequent fear of attachments and pain. But are these gadgets perhaps really any different emotionally from the straws through which shot my bits of apple? Hmmmm.

Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor, presents evidence of technology and social media preventing the normal growth of relationships. In Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other , she  describes teenagers who revealed their anger when their parents spend time at the dinner table texting and emailing, instead of focusing attention on their children, who desperately need that attention. Such parents have obviously not yet achieved their own adulthood. They must be really struggling with parenthood, and have a long way to go before they discover true  geezerhood.


Perhaps it comes down to fear:

fear of  abandonment,

fear of  starvation,

fear of pain,

fear of losing love,

fear of rejection,

fear of incompetence,

fear of sickness and helplessness,

fear of old age and physical decline,

fear of aloneness.

The journey from childhood to adulthood and on to geezerhood


not letting those and other fears paralyze us.

One of my sons has written a song about the Choices (the name of the song) we must make on this journey . One verse goes,

“So Follow the road that you hear in your Heart

When you’re standing alone and you’re ready to start

Don’t become fooled by the voices you’ll hear

That surround you and drown you and get you to act out of fear.”

© Tim Van Ness

Today’s motto for all geezers is Love Is Letting Go of Fear .

© John Van Ness 1/27/2013


  1. Great post and as always, well written, BUT I disagree. I like this age of Twitter, Apple and Facebook. It enhances my favorite side, the introvert. Then too, I have found the social interaction of an online class much better than in person. I have come to believe that my best communications are written, not oral.

    • Should we quit our breakfasts together, Bob, and just Twit or text each other? I would miss our face-to-face over eggs and coffee.

      • Hah, now your getting personal. You can’t do that in this day and age. From now on I will send my avitar.

      • My point exactly. In this day and age, as in any other, it’s getting personal that makes us human.

  2. I spent the summer training service advisors in car dealerships on the techniques of building relationships with customers. For many young people this was a very difficult task. Some even asked me, “Why would I bother?” The idea of relating thru observation and discussion was extremely difficult for some. But using their phones? They are, to many, an extension of their bodies.

    • It seems to me that a service manager – or anyone else – who could only relate by using a phone would miss the most valuable experience of the relationship = the sense of knowing someone in the heart. How would such a person fall in love??


  3. O, to have a young metabolism again. From my late teens into my late 30s my diet was cigarettes and sweets, and I never gained an ounce.

    Following a long absence of traveling, I recently flew to CA. That’s when the age of technology really hit me. No longer do those already seated watch those walking down the isle, perhaps hoping that the screaming kid or hefty man won’t be seated next to them. Now, everyone has their nose buried in their device(s) and are oblivious to those around them.

    Loved your observations about parental bonds needing to be broken before being able to fully nurture another. Also your and Tim’s poems about the many forms of fear we must fight to bring about true connections with others.

  4. As I search for a meaningful career the “social” media venue is about the words, not accountablitiy to follow through or professional courtesy. In this realm I would rather acknowledge a human being than click a button.
    However, FaceTime has given me the ability to talk and see my beautiful daughter and family and that gives me joy! Thank goodness for balance. Namaste

    • Without balance, we’d never make it to geezerhood or to full humaninty.

  5. Thank-you, John. I usually like to read your blog right away, but what a joy that, having waited, the follow-up posts from your readers have doubly blessed me! As well, the wise, judicial counselor within you shines through your words just as when I care-partnered with you and Pat, and I encountered crossroads of healing in short and gentle, poignant yet appropriate, moments of conversation with you. Through this Gueezerhood Guide you continue to bring greater insight and grace into my struggle to understand myself and how to “negotiate those shoals of relationship” with others in a more affirming, serendipitous way. I respond to your blogs not with any awareness that others are reading and “listening”, but just as if we were standing in your living room debriefing my day with Pat before I leave. You took time to ask how I am doing personally and give me a bit of wise councel as I struggle with the dilemma of maintaining spiritual and relational homeostasis (balance)- the art of respecting inter-personal boundaries, discerning “whose problem is it?”, not taking everything personally, meeting others where they are at on their own journey of self-discovery, etc. I know my responses are perhaps insufferably long-winded, but you know me! My voice, here, is a way for me to connect with you as a grateful friend, This is your birthday month. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU OLD GUEEZER! Wow! You are probably the only man I can say that to as you are, Sir, a self-professed gueezer! I, too, question the seeming disconnect that technology can create between human hearts- the deficits in relational skills it is causing in the younger generation. Yet, with my adult son and daughter who have hurts with me, texting keeps us, at the very least, disconnectedly connecting until such a time as greater restoration and healing of our relationships occurs. The written words on my cell phone, “Goodnight, Mom, I love you.”, or, “Have a great day, Mom! I’m thinking of you!”, will have to suffice until they have the courage to enter in to real authentic dialogue without fearing they will let loose and “let me have it” for all my wrong life choices. They have matured enough to desire to tread lightly upon my heart and not mistreat me verbally, but so much anger still lurks within them. I went through this with my own parents in my early 20’s and found my way to forgiveness. They will too. So, I have a love/hate apathy regarding texting! I am so grateful for it with my kids but it SUCKS that that’s the main venue through which they feel safe to interact with me. I do not agree with their “wordly ” lifestyles, and they tell me they feel guilty when they talk with me, though I do not lecture nor give unsolicited advice!. Conviction is not necessarily a bad thing, but perhaps it is a good sign they are aware of my desire for them to seek God with their whole hearts, minds, souls and strengths so that the awakening of their souls/spirits may bear good fruit for themselves and their fellow man. God bless you, John. I really can envision some of your thought-provoking, artfully, diplomatically and finessely written bolgs as articles printed in prestigious magazines. I am praying the Lord will move through and promote your writings to a place of larger audience so others, like myself, may be brought to greater maturity of character through your experience, strength and hope. Although “iron sharpens iron” was a prominent dynamic in our past, I am enjoying the blessings and ease of interacting with you through this format- perhaps much like how my kids relate to me! It feels safer! But, then, that is just the “tweezer” (in between teen and gueezerhood) in me! Love, Robyn

    • HI Robyn,

      Thanks for your kind and supportive words. I’m glad that this electronic medium does have an important place in your life, as well as in the lives of many others.

      As I write this, I’m watching a mother deer and 5 fauns grazing in the exposed grass and snow out the window on this warm and very foggy afternoon. Amazing!

      Peace, John

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