Isolation vs. Intimacy in the Digital Age

A week ago I listened to a podcast by Dr. Jeff Keuss, a professor at Seattle

Pacific University, about friendship through the eyes of emerging adults.  That’s my generation, age 20 through early thirties.  We are in the stage of life which physiologist Erik Erikson would describe as a conflict between isolation and intimacy.  It is a stage which Dr. Keuss suggest in the podcast has lengthened in comparison to previous generations.  Instead of graduating from high school, finding a stable job, marrying, and having children as was common for the parents of emerging adult’s parents many emerging adults will attend college.  They will then wait to get married and even longer to have children.  If having raising a family is society’s unconscious milestone for reaching full adulthood than the phase in between has become very long.

Adding to this is a generation that is firmly tethered to the digital world.  On Facebook, blogs, and Twitter we emerging adults have our digital selves constantly available to the world, whether they are our really selves or only alter egos.  Cellphones mean we are never disconnected.  We are available to anyone anywhere who has our number and others are the same to us.  If our phones are web capable then we are even more omnipresent.  I say all this not to criticize the digital world in which we live it, but to help us think about its effect on emerging adults, my generation.  What does it to our conflict of isolation vs. identity?  How does it affect the struggles we emerging adults face as we come into adulthood?

As an aside I want to say that I deeply want to bring healing and wholeness to my generation.  We are a generation with our own hurts and struggles.  We are a very spiritual generation, but have trouble seeing the relevance of religion or the church.  While many off us grew up in the church, many don’t attend with any regularity.  We are a generation who struggles with a sense of fragmentation in ourselves and our relationships, living with isolation, while longing for intimacy.  In Romans 11 Paul expresses his hurt over seeing his own people, Israel, reject Christ and his strong desire that somehow he could draw them over.  Some of that is in me for my own generation, leading me to curious places in the search.There is not enough space to consider all which faces emerging adults in this post.  Listening to the podcast will be helpful in stimulating thought in this area.  The only thing I will touch on is something Dr. Keuss mentioned about leading this generation from vulnerability to intimacy.  We often get the two terms confused, I personally have confused them in my life.  My generation is a vulnerable one.  We express our every thought and action on Facebook and upload pictures of ourselves for everyone to see.  Blogs replace personal journals, with the key difference being that everyone can see the contents of the blog.  We upload ourselves into the cloud for all to see.  Beneath this I think is our desire for intimacy, a reciprocal closeness with another human being.  Vulnerability is a characteristic of intimacy, but it is no guarantee that intimacy itself.  Being vulnerable with someone may or may not result in intimacy.  I can express my most intimate thoughts on this blog and while producing a sense of intimacy between myself and you the reader, intimacy doesn’t actually exist.  My generation is a lonely, isolated one, seeking intimacy, often in ways that fail to provide the real thing.  Enabling members in this generation to move from isolation into intimate relationships is an important task in redeeming and healing it.  A task easier said than done.



  1. benjaminfunkhouser · December 21, 2010

    You’re right, the difference between vulnerability and intimacy is often confused. We are so vulnerable and interconnected (technologically) that we are surprised when we still feel lonely. True intimacy is tough in our culture – it takes hard work and patience to cultivate: two things very lacking in our “connected” culture. It’s easy to post on someone’s status, it’s a very different matter to spend an hour or two truly listening to them.

  2. Sara · January 13, 2011

    hi, I’ve been following your blog for a couple weeks after stumbling on it when looking for the full poem of CS Lewis “Turn of the Tide.”

    I think what you said about intimacy is very true. At Christmas I was texting a lot with a friend in Seattle about some fairly intimate topics: marriage, relationships, future hopes, fears, our walk with God, etc. I mentioned some of it to my mum while I was at my parent’s house for the holiday. She immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was romantically interested in me. I had a difficult time explaining to her that it is easy and safe to talk about these things via texting, google chat and facebook–without there being an intimate romantic interest. My friend and I talk about this stuff all the time. But the safety and security of doing it in a medium which does not require our voices, awkward pauses and on the spot thinking is strangely intimate without being truly relational and intimate. It’s like this safe way of doing things so that we can discuss whatever we want, but if he picked up the phone and actually called then things would be different. We can communicate with technology about deep topics without ever really having a relationship. Like Benjamin said: it’s much easier (and therefor lacking) to simply comment on a status or send a text than to actually build a relationship with someone. It’s faster, simpler, and yet it often produces very little.

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