Back when the telephone first became popular, an interesting phenomenon occurred. People started to call other people armed with a new found power to pretend to be someone they weren’t.
The word telephone literally means “distant speech” and before this technology existed, you had to have conversations face to face and you knew who you were talking to, but now you could call up someone at random and pretend you were anyone from the President to the Pope.
That became such a wide spread practice that people began to give it a name. We called the people who hid behind this new kind of technology a “Phony.”
With the rise of any new technology there is also a rise in the anxiety about how we might misuse it.
In 1858 there was an article in no less than the NY Times that said the “Telegraph was too fast for the truth.” In 1924 people were worried that the Radio was going to be a nuisance that created unnecessary noise, and then a few years later we were worried that Television was going to be so spellbinding that people would no longer leave their homes.And now is the point in the blog where I should probably point out that all these concerns were unjustified panic…right?
As I read these old articles from people who don’t know what we know now, I wonder if, as wrong as they were on some things, our “unevolved” ancestors might have had clearer eyes than we do about our relationship with all our technology.
The New Problem of Boredom
For the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing Andy Crouch’s great new book The Tech-Wise Family and today I want to bring that series to a close by just pointing out the truth that we should all know, but so rarely admit to ourselves.
Technology creates just as many problems as it’s solves.
What was once a blessing can become a curse, and what once led to freedom can also become a new slave master.
Did you know that boredom really didn’t enter the English vocabulary until three hundred years ago? It seems that, modern life, for all it’s conveniences, is boring in a way that is unprecedented in human history. Why is that?
Here’s what Andy says about it:
Could it be that modern life is boring in a way that premodern life was not? How could this be? Our world has more distractions and entertainments than we can ever consume.
We feel busy and overworked in ways even our grandparents couldn’t have imagined (even as many of us work far less hard, physically, than most of them did). But that’s actually why we get bored. Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition.
The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.
Andy believes (and I think rightfully so) that our always escalating, fast-paced, entertainment is decreasing our ability to appreciate the ordinary awe that is all around us. The whole earth is, after all, charged with the grandeur of God, but we can’t see it because we are losing our ability to pay attention to anything for more than a few seconds at a time.
If that diagnosis rings true as true to you as it does to me, then the answer doesn’t have to be to unplug everything and start making quilts and riding horse-drawn carriages. But it will involve changing our relationship to the technology already in your life in a way that will make you feel, in the word of Crouch “Almost Amish.”
And it will certainly lead you to greater joy, to greater worship, and to greater, deeper friendships.
Making Music Means Making Memories
When I first read Andy’s book, I thought it was strange that he ended his families 10 commitments to technology with a commitment to singing and a commitment to showing up to “the big events in people’s lives.”
But after I read this book, it totally makes sense, this is what a life not oriented to technology looks like!Because of our technology, places where people used to sing together are being replaced with professionalized amplification. We have music everywhere, but no longer do we have to learn to play an instrument or sing to make it.
No longer does the entire church need to participate for a worship assembly to work. We often replace singing with standing and swaying as someone else – usually highly trained and very good – does it for us.
Like most technology, this can be an amazing gift. But when it replaces or diminishes the entire church’s participation, something very valuable is lost.
The way I’ve often heard it talked about is that our technology is training us to consume more than create and engage, and if that’s true in your life and church, then we have to at least acknowledge to ourselves that something is being lost that for centuries has formed virtue and courage in the people of God.
From Paul and Silas singing in prison, to the Civil Rights movement, our vocal participation in singing the story of God has mattered because it how our physical bodies join together in remembering our place in the universe and what God is doing in it.
In the Flesh
And finally, the Crouches have made a decision to just show up in person. Mainly at big events, but he is talking about everything from attending church to funerals to people’s graduations or retirement parties.
This sounds like a strange ending for a book on technology, but the one thing I believe our tech has taken away from us the most…the ability to be there for each other.
On my personal blog I just finished a series on the societal impact of America’s declining church attendance, but this is just a symptom of our larger Western problem. When we rely to much on technology to “be there” we forget that God created our bodies, they are a gift bound by space and time, and to be present was the greatest gift God gave the world, and the greatest gift we can really give each other.
As great as Skype is, nobody wants to be married via video, or to attend a loved ones funeral online. But having the option to virtually attend events has made it easier to fool ourselves into believing we’re giving and receiving the same benefits of being physically present somewhere, when in reality we’re just staring at a screen isolated and often alone.
Being present somewhere requires something of me that passively watching a screen does not. It requires vulnerability and sacrifice, but it also gives something back that no technology can replace, and c’mon, don’t we already know this is true?
Nobody wants to be on their deathbed reading Facebook condolences about our health. We want the people that we’ve loved and shared life with beside us as we say goodbye. But if we want to die that way we must begin to learn again how to live that way.
And so Andy ends the book by telling about just that. Watching a dear friend die. After fighting cancer for years, and using technology in so many appropriate and helpful ways (blogging, Facebook support groups) the end had come. And for the final few days of his life, they gathered around and sang 10,000 reasons together, they prayed together, they said goodbye together.
I’ll let Andy tell it from here:
But he was still there, still with us, still able, just barely, to hear us praying and singing—able, in moments of lucidity, to open his eyes, take in the small group of family and friends gathered around his bed, and know he was not alone.
The easy-everywhere dream (of technology) had ended. Now we could only be here, in our own vulnerable bodies, present to the immensely hard reality of a
friend, father, son, and husband dying…
It was one of the hardest places I have ever been. It was one of the most holy places I have ever been. It was one of the best places I have ever been.
We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent.