Isn’t it strange that feeling alone is such a surprisingly normal, common thing experienced by so many people? We’ve all been there.
Even knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me, my introversion often leaves me in a kind of melancholy where I lose myself in nature or in a book, or create something in the kitchen.
Those are the picture-perfect, Instagram-ready responses to feeling lonely or restless, but often enough, this feeling leads me to the plain, old habit of browsing the internet. I know I’m not the only one.
In fact, my husband recently pointed out to me that one of the most popular channels on Twitch is called “Just Chatting.” (Twitch is a streaming platform mostly consisting of video game live streaming, while onlookers can react, converse, and even give money the players they like to watch.)
“Just Chatting” is a category where, rather than playing video games, streamers can talk to viewers, respond to comments, and build community with fans across continents.
Personally, I am not a gamer. When Oregon Trail and Backyard Baseball were replaced with a growing pile of homework and evening softball practices, the video game days ended, and I haven’t looked back. I can’t say I understand Twitch.
But I do understand our innate need for connection.
And it’s amazing to me that one of the most popular categories on Twitch affirms this need for connection that is present in all of us.
I get it. Twitch users get it. Even Pope Francis gets it.
In his 2019 World Day for Communications message, Pope Francis wrote, “The net is an opportunity to promote encounter with others.” He goes on to say that this can also create isolation, that “there is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming ‘social hermits’ who risk alienating themselves completely from society.”
We all feel alone at times. We all seek community. This need for community — this need for communion — is written on our hearts because we’re made for communion with God.
And the beautiful thing is that we can find a piece of that eternal communion here on earth, encountering Christ in those around us.
Pope Francis calls it going “from a ‘like’ to an ‘amen’”.
But how? Pope Francis has some things to say there, too:
- Use the net “as an extension or expectation of such an encounter.
- Use the net to plan gatherings, “to then meet at table and look into each other’s eyes.”
- The digital realm is a platform through which we can “share stories and experiences of beauty or suffering that are physically distant from us, in order to pray together and together seek out the good to rediscover what unites us.”
In short, it’s okay to spend time online, but we might feel less restless if we use the internet as a way to connect to real people — to “Just chat,” to borrow the name of the Twitch category. Encounter others. But do so in a way that doesn’t diminish the personal presence we have to offer one another. And, if we can, we should try to come together in a face-to-face encounter with people we meet online.
Fact: we all feel alone sometimes.
Fact: we’re all made for human communion.
And, yes, we can find that connection online.
But Pope Francis reminds us that this connection is best filled when our lives online serve as a bridge to authentic, face-to-face encounters.