The Uncanny Valley

Jon Burgess


“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” ‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:12‬ ‭NIV


The Apostle John is dropping some wisdom and direction on the church, but he knows his pen and parchment is not enough. He wants to be with them, give them a big hug. He wants to look them in the eyes and have them hear the warmth of his voice. He want to personally exhort them in the ways of God and warn them of the false shepherds. A letter is good, but he knows it's a stop-gap measure until he can be with them face to face. Then their joy, their mutual affection, their faith-filled celebration will be complete!


Could it be that we as Christians are walking around with an incomplete joy, shallow relationships, and half-baked accountability because we have relied on digital displays over actual encounters? Could the simple conclusion to John's letter hold a clue to the cultural conundrum we all face? The conundrum being how we have more means of instant communcation then ever before and yet are more distant in our relationships then ever before! Maybe this simple scripture reveals someing we didn't even realize we were missing in our 21st century advanced communications? Could it be that "Face Time" needs to be actual time with someone's face that you can reach out and touch? Could it be that we need to reinvest in the seemingly archaic tradition of talking to each other personally instead of just digitally? What if family dinners can't be replaced by online chats? What if our joy is a pixelated mess of ones and zeroes because there is no replacement for actually being in the same room together? Most experts agree that no matter how advanced computer animation becomes it cannot cross the "uncanny valley". In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is describing what is felt when human beings are looking at a human replica or digital recreation of another human being. It looks "almost" life-like, but instead of feelings of companionship or relationship we feel eery or even revulsed by what we see. As technology advances it gets harder and harder to put our finger on it, but something feels "off" about what we're seeing. There's no crossing the uncanny valley, but there is a widening of it between us if we aren't careful. Something feels "off" in our relationships because they aren't real or deep or true. This is not an argument against technology as a tool, but technology as an excuse to avoid intimacy. My folks live in Oregon, so I am very happy I can at least "face time" with them on my computer so my boys can see them. Just last month,though, I was able to visit them and spend a few days. I felt so much closer and connected with them. I crossed that uncanny valley of digital communication and deeply reconnected with them. Just this past week our good friends the Rolf's from New Hope Seattle came to visit and we picked up right where we had left off two years ago when we moved back to Hawaii. We had talked and done "face time" before then, but this was a true strengthening of our bonds and a reaffirming of what a gift they are in our lives. You just can't reach out and hug someone through a screen. You just can't. All I'm saying is that we must make time for face time in real time if at all possible. Yes, it takes more time and digital communication is so much quicker. If you only have the ability for one mode of communication then something is always better then nothing. Let's be sure our tech is a suplement and not a substitute for "live and in person" connection. Let's just be sure that we aren't letting the uncanny valley widen in our relationships. There's no replacement for having you in the same room with the ones who love you. The more technology advances the more intentional we must be to reach out to those around us and truly spend time with them. For then and only then will our joy be complete.


Lord, I'm tired of living with partial joy. I want all that You have for us! Thank you for this reminder today. I am so thankful for my friends and family in my life. I don't want to look back on my life with regret that I missed the real relationships right in front of me because I was too busy with my digital ones. Let me look my boys in the eyes. Let me stroke my wife's beautiful blond hair. Let me take my Uncle out to lunch. Let me listen to the broken heart in front of me. Only by cherishing what You've given me through giving personal time can our joy finally be complete.

Devotions for August 25

Jeremiah 37,38,39
Psalms 79
2 John

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