After I write these words, I'm going to post them online to encourage you to spend less time online.
How's that for irony?
I have been thinking about this since reading an article by Janine Latus in the University of Virginia alumni magazine, a summary of UVA Commerce Professor David Mick's work.
"You click on the picture of your grandbaby and feel a zing of joy," Latus writes, "so you click on the cat video and chuckle, and then on What Former Child Stars Look Like Now and whoosh, another hour of your life is gone. Your coffee is cold, your morning momentum has dissipated into the cloud and whatever you would have done with that time is no longer an option."
You've had this experience, haven't you? Don't you find that you're more easily distracted when you're online? Don't you find your attentiveness to be easily fragmented? Have you had the experience of bouncing from one alluring stimulus to the next until you look at the bottom right corner of your screen, surprised how much time has passed, and regretful that because you realize that everything you've clicked has only been trivial and unimportant?
But that's not the whole story. You've also experienced the wonderful depths of information available to us online, haven't you? My recent favorites include an article in The New York Times, in which the author asked a variety of writers what their favorite poems were. In each case, there was a link to click to read the poem! Again, in The New York Times, I've been reading David Brooks' annual shout outs to the best essays written during the year. All I had to do was to click, and I could read each essay Brooks referred to. Marvelous!
Do you share my love-hate relationship with technology? According to Janine Latus, Professor Mick "first studied our conflicted relationship with technology back when it was a simple as an answering machine... Fast forward to smartphones and social media, and the constant sense that you will never quite catch up, and further that you're somehow incompetent or old for not adopting the newest 'it' thing.
"'One of the top things we saw in our research is the way technology gets sold to us,' Mick says. 'We believe in it as something that gives us a kind of freedom, to do more, to control our lives, to be somewhere else almost immediately by typing an email or doing a search, but at the same time that it frees us it enslaves us. We become so attached to it that we lose the ability to get those same benefits out of other things in our lives...'
"'Technology alters our reality,' Mick says. 'What does it mean to have a friend? In the past it would be hugs and tears and pats on the back. Technology as it evolves shifts our habits, our knowledge structure, our sense of what is real and not, it changes our definitions and concerts of what we thought was true, what is a friend, a home, what does it mean to communicate?'
"All of which should be taken into consideration when you enter a relationship with a new technology. It will change your routines and expectations, you'll have to invest time to understand and maintain it, and you'll have to give up something -- whether television or a Sunday drive in the country or reading to your child -- in exchange."
I have a concern that Professor Mick does not mention. How does your relationship with technology affect your relationship with God?
Spirituality has to do with our perception of God's presence. I don't know about you, but I have to get to a certain depth of discernment and thought to be aware of that. I need to be prayerful. As a Christian, I claim that spirituality is the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is seen in "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," as Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
When I'm online, I don't often spend much time in depth of discernment or in prayer. When I'm online, especially on Facebook and when reading responses to blogs and articles, I find that most people are reactionary rather than thoughtful, and that there is very little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in what is posted!
A number of years ago, I read of a movement among 20-something-year-old Orthodox Jews in New York City who were turning off their phones during the Sabbath. They found that this act of freedom from technology enabled them to be more attentive to God and to each other. That has motivated me to experiment. I have found similar benefit when staying off line during my own Sabbath time. On other days, I have found great benefit to staying off facebook unless I have something to post, and checking e-mail only at several scheduled times each day. I find that, when I'm not staring into a screen and constantly clicking, I spend more time thinking uninterrupted thoughts, and even praying. I find that I spend more time being patient, open, receiving; being present to people, present to the blessings of the day -- indeed, dare I say it? -- being present to God.
"When buying technology you have to think through the potential paradoxes," Professor Mick says. "Is this something I'm going to be able to live with and use its capacity to be closer to other people, or am I going to get carried away with the other side of it, to be disconnected or blocked?
"Technology puts up these tensions pretty consistently, so you have to ask yourself what you think it's going to do, and weigh that against its potential to do the opposite."
Blessings to you in your discernment!