What hath God wrought?
This brooding message, sent by Samuel Morse in 1844, marked the official opening of the telegraph line between Washington DC and Baltimore in the US.
Morse’s question still crackles with the fear and awe that can surround technological advancement: Is it terrifyingly destructive or the answer to our prayers? Is it altering human thought and behaviour for better or worse? Is it distancing us from God or bringing us closer?
Flash forward to 2024: You’re part of a worship experience with thousands of others linked via ear buds and sunglass screens along with devices that convey smells, sounds and tactile experiences. Your fellow worshippers are at home, in pubs, on headlands, on trains or in the wilderness. The minister streams audio-visual content, moderates the chat room without leaving his or her multimedia station and calls the thousands of individuals/avatars to praise and worship.
If you’re over 30, and a “digital immigrant”, such futuristic visions may be of less concern than what’s happening right now to you, your family and your church family as a result of technology’s pervasiveness.
If you’re under 30 and a “digital native”, you’re probably not concerned about technology at all — or only when your congregation uses PowerPoint, badly!
Immigrant or native, I invite you to turn off your i-Pod and heed my challenge.
Go cold turkey.
Untether yourself from technology: No SMS, net surfing, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, email, downloads, pod casts, newscasts, YouTube, Wikipedia, Skype, online gaming, TV, DVDs or movies.
It was Thoreau’s Walden*, her own technological dependence and anxiety about how her three teenagers were using their time, space and minds that inspired journalist Susan Maushart to go screen free.
Her hypothesis that six months without screens would cause her family to reconnect with “life itself” and with each other, and to grow as individuals, was confirmed and is well documented in The Winter of our Disconnect (Bantam, 2010).
If six months screen free seems too extreme an experiment, try it for a day or a few hours each week.
Start by not taking your mobile to church or to the dinner table.
Set digital boundaries to help you distinguish between necessary and compulsive screen-based consumption, redefine what’s urgent and connect in real time using all five senses.
Feel, as Nicholas Carr writes in The Shallows, how the “cacophony of stimuli” online has been taxing your brain so that contemplative and imaginative thinking has become increasingly difficult.
Look inwards to rediscover the still, small voice …
If this sounds simple and not subversive be warned: Maushart was accused of depriving her children by conducting her screen-free experiment.
Our biggest challenge today, she says, may be finding the moral courage to log off.
Please write to Insights about what you encounter emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually as you take up this moral challenge.
*Maushart says that by isolating himself in nature at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau did not run away from life but ran towards it; deepening his sense of what mattered.