Our electronic world

September 12, 2012 | Editorial | Number 18
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

There is something eerily sad about summer coming to an end.  One difference with living in Canada is somewhat more satisfying and uplifting than living in warmer climes—the warmth of the summer months seems to re-charge the human spirit, get one in touch with nature and families and unwind from the demands of a whirling, electronic-driven world.

Our kids go off to camp and are forced to leave behind their computers and smart phones.  Families escape to the cottage beside the lake, connecting with the yodel of the loon, the rhythmic drilling of the woodpecker on a gnarly old pine, the chatter of the chipmunk—all mixing with the happy sounds of children splashing in the lake and teenagers screaming as they push each other off the raft into deeper water.

It’s all so restorative and healthy, appetites growing bigger and bigger with the ripening of fresh veggies and fruit from the garden or farm market.  Conversation, sometimes suspended with the rushing to meet schedules and other community/church demands other times of the year, comes easy and often as the long days give us time to reflect and share family stories.

And then, just as fast as it came, away it goes at the beginning of September, giving way to stocking up on school supplies, deciding on school outfits, attending endless sports and drama events, getting into the routine of classes and homework, into office protocol, making room for church committee meetings, meeting newly-set goals of a profession or business, marshalling our talents and skills to improve and advance.

And the computer, taking a rest, too, during this respite, again becomes a central part of our lives, enveloping our waking hours with Facebook, emails, YouTube and zillions of apps that fill us to the brim with over-information and noise.

Aye, yes, the computer and smart phone—both a bane and blessing of our modern life.

A blessing because, thinking back 20 years, we can’t imagine how we functioned without them.  We don’t have to wait two weeks for a letter from a family member coming through snail mail.  Or to inform family members and friends of an emergency.  We can now do that with the click of a mouse, the sending of a 140-character text.

We have reduced our carbon footprint in our institutional and workplace lives by having virtual meetings via Skype and other internet gatherings, can communicate with family, friends and associates around the globe without giving up precious time and using fossil fuels to get to far-flung places.

Medical, emergency and financial services are all delivered with much greater efficiency, the transfer of all goods and services much more smooth and fast because of the internet.

And yet, how has our quality of life improved?  With all this increased efficiency in living, we should have more time for reflection, for spending time together with family and friends, for a measured, thoughtful discernment process in our congregations, for more poetry and art in our discourse, more gratitude and less complaining and conflict.

Instead, our public discourse has grown more coarse and partisan, our attention span narrowed to about 3-4 minutes, our yearning for escape into entertainment and celebrity worship growing exponentially.  Online adult entertainment, says author Bill Tanger in his book Click, has grown to a $97 million-a-year industry.  Facebook and Twitter account for billions of messages a day.  Yet these are all one-way communications, shorn of smiles, hugs, intonation, laughter and tears.

Has the computer made our faith stronger, our vision sharper, our communities of faith wellsprings of grace, strength and joy, sanctuaries for the downtrodden and marginalized, centres of healing and hope for our tired souls?  Are we impatient with the five-year Being a Faithful Church process designed for our congregations by Mennonite Church Canada because it doesn’t spit out data and answers in five minutes, giving us a blueprint for action and a listing of belief and practice on a spreadsheet?

Our ecstasy and dependence on the computer has to be reigned in.  We need to get in control of it and not let it dictate our lives and our spiritual well-being, becoming a dominant life force.  We need to know when it becomes a curse on our shalom.

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