Continued thoughts on going without some of our technological appendages
and indeed, appendages they have become, limb like in their attachment to us. We are rapidly fusing with elements of our technological milieu, to the point where we have become accustomed to speaking in terms of ‘the post-human’, or imagining that AI is perhaps not the horror it was once perceived to be. Do we care if the ‘person’ who is looking after us is actually an advanced latex covered robot, if it seems human?
Although I am taking time to disconnect from a few of my own technological prosthetics – smartphone, tablet and computer – one of my repeated observations is that these ‘tools’ actually disconnect us from one another. I have become so used to seeing ‘friends’ spending half an hour in the same space, whilst sharing barely a word over ‘a coffee date’, staring at their devices. [ I still remember quite clearly how more than a year ago now: I was with my wife Sarah, in a restaurant. A mother and daughter had brought the grandmother out ‘for a special occasion lunch’. The two younger members of the party were constantly on their phones, picking at their food as texts and emails allowed. The Grandmother was a picture of loneliness on ‘her special occasion’.]
There is such a thing as a companionable silence, which grows out of deep friendship, a mutual trust, and a sense of being known which goes beyond words. A Knowledge that frees one from the anxiety of ‘having to be connected’. Theologically we might express this in terms of God’s radical freedom From us, which is the assured basis of his being For us. God is not always anxiously trying to ‘be in touch’ and his friends worry less and less about ‘what to say’ in His presence. Love does not grasp.
But the technologically induced ‘silence’ is of another sought. Fingers fly over the screens – grimaces and more cross the face as people seek connection with ‘friends’, people whom perhaps they have never met face to face. Research reveals the non-companionability of such interactions. At the neuro-physiological level, there is no response which correlates to the presence of another. When we interact by text whatever our minds say, most of our being is unresponsive – text does not convey the presence of the other to us any deeper than those thoughts that perpetually flick across our consciouness. Silence in such cases is deeply troubling, for we do not actually believe that there is anyone there.
So in a counter intuitive way, disconnecting enables connection. It causes us to wake up to what Is. To God. To be truly human, not by addition, but by stripping away
I know from my own experience how I have lost track of prayer and spacious quiet in the presence of God, as my hand instinctively moved to my phone and its beep as yet another message came in. In my early days of such a device I completely lost my way, and ever since, even if I carry it, which I tend not to, it is always set to silent. The change in my mood has been marked, not least for my family, to whom I am more present.
What we fail to acknowledge, because it contradicts one of the most pervasive and deceitful myths of our age – that of ‘progress’ (magnified by technological ‘Change’ [sic]) – is that tools change us. The internet is awash with videos of how drivers of large cars are less courteous than those of small cars; we do speak far less to one another on those increasingly rare occasions when we are in company – google glass has perhaps not taken off, because we have already adapted ourselves to the cell phone appendage [Undertakers note a new wrinkle under the chin – cell phone glance wrinkle]; someone with a gun is not the same as someone with a gun; or to quote the old aphorism, ‘ to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail ‘ We love to say, because we Need to say ‘it is not the tools, it is how we use them . . .’ but even the simplest of tools come with the promise of Power, and Power corrupts
We have a sense that with technology we become More – we expand the scope of our power over our surroundings – perhaps this is the root of our obsession with The Self. The truth is that we become far less. We become like that which we worship, for it promises everything to us, and we have a hard time resisting the lure. With regards to smartphones etc. this is especially true as we disappear – we are no longer present. (purely having one on your person reduces your attentiveness to that which is around by about 15% . . .) The average smartphone user looks at the screen 80 times a day. We cannot look away . . . I have myself driven a visitor through the glorious scenery of the South Island, with them permanently glued to their screen . . .
But in Lent, we go without – we empty ourselves deliberately – and therein find great treasures in things perhaps long forgotten . . . Hopefully we find we wake up, and carry on doing without, for the Life which emerges.
Technology promises us that in taking more we shall be like gods [Again, a reason why the gnostic evolutionary forms of faith seem so persuasive] . . . but the way of Kenosis, of laying down, of letting go is the way we come to ourselves. The way of the Cross. The way of Jesus