One of the things I’m finding hardest about lockdown is the increased reliance on screens, not just to do my job, but in order to be able to keep in touch with family and friends. I’d almost rather have no contact than the frustratingly inadequate two-dimensional experience of staring at my pixelated friends (and my own face), complete with audio lag. There’s no room for nuance, body language, hugs, comic timing or companionable silence. It just seems to emphasise our apartness. (For more on this, ‘The reason Zoom calls drain your energy’ is very perceptive and helpful.)
I’ve also realised that I don’t just miss my friends and family, but I miss the daily interaction with strangers - the chance to relate on an embodied human level. There is something crucial to human flourishing about being able to chat with someone in the post office queue or say hi to someone on a bus. To rub shoulders with our neighbours, look into someone’s eyes when we’re talking to them, see their needs and be involved in their lives is what builds community. But this essential social fabric has been being worn down long before the Coronavirus came along. I have blogged previously about how automation and efficiency is deepening our individualism and undermining our relationships. Being able to travel to a shop, go round selecting everything we need, pay at a self-scan till and go home all without having to interact with a single human being may be efficient, but is it good?
It seems that we’ve unconsciously accepted many technological developments without questioning whether they are positive, neutral or destructive. It’s quite difficult to stand back and take a long, hard, objective look at the way all-pervasive technologies are changing the way we think, relate and understand ourselves.
I’ve recently read 12 ways your phone is changing you by Tony Reinke and found it a provocative, sometimes uncomfortable read, which challenges our dependence on technology. He recognises the benefits it brings, whilst cautioning against uncritical acceptance.
Here are a few interesting quotes from my reading:
“Joy is a precious emotion in our integrated existence. Joy brings our attention, our minds, and our flesh and blood together into face-to-face fellowship – eyeball-to-eyeball love. The Christian’s challenge is to love not in tweets and texts only, but even more in deeds and physical presence.” (P.60)
“…the Bible stands as the oldest, longest, and most complicated book we will ever try to read on our own. Simultaneously, every lure and temptation of the digital age is convincing us to give up difficult, sustained work for the immediate and impulsive content we can skim.” (P.87)
“…we must learn to enjoy our present lives in faith – that is, to enjoy each moment of life without feeling compelled to “capture” it.” (P.100)
“As technology improves, machines replace people and automation replaces interaction.” (P.121)
“Our smartphones are portable shields we wield in public in order to deter human contact and interaction.” (P.122)
“The smartphone is causing a social reversal: the desire to be alone in public and never alone in seclusion.” (P.124)
“By grace, we are free to close our news sources, close our life-hacking apps, and power down our phones in order to simply feast in the presence of friends and enjoy our spouses and families in the mystery, majesty, and the “thickness” of human existence.” (P.151)
And that leads nicely to a little trip down memory lane. When I was a child, I loved watching a TV programme called ‘Why don’t you?’. The theme song culminated with the paradoxical “Why don’t you just switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead?”. So maybe I should end with, “Why don’t you switch off your phone, laptop, tablet or whatever you’re reading this on, and do something less boring instead?”.
For further reading:
(I realise there’s a certain irony in giving links to other websites after I’ve challenged you to turn your device off. Oh well, you can always come back to them later.)
Posted by Anne Witton. Posted In : Reflections