Tech cannot replace missing my sister's wedding

By ZDR

I was supposed to fly from Virginia to Louisiana the first week of April to be in my sister's wedding.  Instead, I watched it via Facebook alone in my office the day afterward.  Participating in it through technology is a poor substitute for being there.

Americans have great faith in the ability of technology to solve our ills.  That includes the need, recognized long ago by Aristotle, that the pursuit of virtue among friends of necessity requires living life together.  Our youths have multitudes of friends, yet suicide is the highest it has been since World War II, depression has risen in the young, and social isolation is up.  It is time to question the assumption that technology can replace living in community, especially the community provided by family.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to mandatory social distancing and stay-at-home orders.  Large swathes of the population have had to deal with sudden changes to long-term plans and ways of living.  For me, one of the most significant and thus far costly consequences was missing my sister's wedding and being forced to watch it over Facebook Live.

I have always been close to my sister, who is five years younger than me.  Throughout my undergraduate years, we spent time together every weekend until I went to Hillsdale College for a graduate degree and my family moved to Louisiana.  Since that time, my sister has completed high school and her nursing degree at Louisiana Technical University (go Bulldogs!), and now she has gotten married while I have lived across the country for school, fellowships, and now work.  I have missed birthdays, Sunday brunches, and school plays.  The Facebook pictures and videos are a small substitute for actually being there and experiencing the moments with my family, for my sister to see and know how much I love and support her in her endeavors.

Americans in recent years have thought distance is conquerable and that proximity is not necessary for a life truly well lived.  Living well requires more than just material comforts.  It requires friends and family pursuing common ends, such as virtue.  We must turn to Aristotle to understand the necessity of friendship, the three types of friendship, and what is necessary for the highest form.

First, friends are necessary for life.  In Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, he says, "For no one would choose to live life without friends, despite having all the rest of the good things[.] ... [I]n both poverty and other misfortunes people believe that friends are the only refuge."

Second, Aristotle lays out the three types of friendship in chapter three of book eight.  The first love is the one where each party receives something useful.  This is the relationship between you and the teller at your bank whose window you choose when you frequent the bank.  Pleasure forms the basis of the next level of friendship, and it is found among those who derive pleasure from each other, such as members of a local softball team.  These two types of friendship are based on what they provide and are therefore easily dissolved.  Finally, the complete friendship "is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue."  This type of friendship will remain as long as both individuals continue to be good and pursue virtue.

Third, Aristotle recognizes the need for time and proximity for friendships of virtue.  This is because it takes time to get to know another person, and this is really accomplished only by doing many things together.

I consider my immediate family to be the highest type because while we are all engaged in different career fields and take pleasure in different activities, we are agreed that, as the Catechism phrases it, the goal of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Living apart from them means they are not with me when I have doubts about my actions or I desire their laughter and fellowship or require their assistance with a doctor's appointment, a broken down car, or any of the numerous problems best confronted with the assistance of others.

Many if not most of the students I teach are convinced that their cell phones obviate the necessity of proximity to their friends and family.  This is false.  Watching my sister's wedding alone in my office was a depressing experience.

What America is facing imposes costs.  As Jonathan Ashbach recently pointed out, America has to make the rational calculus between the government's response and individual liberty, between human lives and the economy.  We must also recognize the social costs and admit that while technology can, to a certain extent, mitigate the costs of social distancing, it cannot replace living life with others.  It is my hope that when this crisis has passed, we will recognize this and prioritize the face-to-face, regular contact with dear ones that helps make life worth living.

I was supposed to fly from Virginia to Louisiana the first week of April to be in my sister's wedding.  Instead, I watched it via Facebook alone in my office the day afterward.  Participating in it through technology is a poor substitute for being there.

Americans have great faith in the ability of technology to solve our ills.  That includes the need, recognized long ago by Aristotle, that the pursuit of virtue among friends of necessity requires living life together.  Our youths have multitudes of friends, yet suicide is the highest it has been since World War II, depression has risen in the young, and social isolation is up.  It is time to question the assumption that technology can replace living in community, especially the community provided by family.

The COVID-19 crisis has led to mandatory social distancing and stay-at-home orders.  Large swathes of the population have had to deal with sudden changes to long-term plans and ways of living.  For me, one of the most significant and thus far costly consequences was missing my sister's wedding and being forced to watch it over Facebook Live.

I have always been close to my sister, who is five years younger than me.  Throughout my undergraduate years, we spent time together every weekend until I went to Hillsdale College for a graduate degree and my family moved to Louisiana.  Since that time, my sister has completed high school and her nursing degree at Louisiana Technical University (go Bulldogs!), and now she has gotten married while I have lived across the country for school, fellowships, and now work.  I have missed birthdays, Sunday brunches, and school plays.  The Facebook pictures and videos are a small substitute for actually being there and experiencing the moments with my family, for my sister to see and know how much I love and support her in her endeavors.

Americans in recent years have thought distance is conquerable and that proximity is not necessary for a life truly well lived.  Living well requires more than just material comforts.  It requires friends and family pursuing common ends, such as virtue.  We must turn to Aristotle to understand the necessity of friendship, the three types of friendship, and what is necessary for the highest form.

First, friends are necessary for life.  In Book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics, he says, "For no one would choose to live life without friends, despite having all the rest of the good things[.] ... [I]n both poverty and other misfortunes people believe that friends are the only refuge."

Second, Aristotle lays out the three types of friendship in chapter three of book eight.  The first love is the one where each party receives something useful.  This is the relationship between you and the teller at your bank whose window you choose when you frequent the bank.  Pleasure forms the basis of the next level of friendship, and it is found among those who derive pleasure from each other, such as members of a local softball team.  These two types of friendship are based on what they provide and are therefore easily dissolved.  Finally, the complete friendship "is that between people who are good and are alike in virtue."  This type of friendship will remain as long as both individuals continue to be good and pursue virtue.

Third, Aristotle recognizes the need for time and proximity for friendships of virtue.  This is because it takes time to get to know another person, and this is really accomplished only by doing many things together.

I consider my immediate family to be the highest type because while we are all engaged in different career fields and take pleasure in different activities, we are agreed that, as the Catechism phrases it, the goal of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Living apart from them means they are not with me when I have doubts about my actions or I desire their laughter and fellowship or require their assistance with a doctor's appointment, a broken down car, or any of the numerous problems best confronted with the assistance of others.

Many if not most of the students I teach are convinced that their cell phones obviate the necessity of proximity to their friends and family.  This is false.  Watching my sister's wedding alone in my office was a depressing experience.

What America is facing imposes costs.  As Jonathan Ashbach recently pointed out, America has to make the rational calculus between the government's response and individual liberty, between human lives and the economy.  We must also recognize the social costs and admit that while technology can, to a certain extent, mitigate the costs of social distancing, it cannot replace living life with others.  It is my hope that when this crisis has passed, we will recognize this and prioritize the face-to-face, regular contact with dear ones that helps make life worth living.