Monday, February 13, 2012

Sabbath and technology

The Atlantic is, along with Wired, one of my favorite places to get good reading. There is a consistent surge of good articles from both sources. Today is no exception. Rebecca J. Rosen's article/post We Don't Need a Digital Sabbath, We Need More Time provides much needed food for thought in regards to our [perceived] relationship to our technology. While I rail, have railed, and will continue rail against the idea of "media fasts" as fasting is strictly applied to eating/not-eating, this idea of a media sabbath is apt. Rosen suggests
"The reason is that if we allow ourselves to blame the technology for distracting us from our children or connecting with our communities, then the solution is simply to put away the technology. We absolve ourselves of the need to create social, political, and, sure, technological structures that allow us to have the kinds of relationships we want with the people around us."
Not dissimilar from fasting, the void that is created by ripping technology from its placeholder in the day-to-day process needs something to fill it. What is needed, as Sertillanges suggests, zones of silences or Rosen's "forts of time". Each of these requires active setup and maintenance. This is antithetical to Rosen's example of being "on the clock" which carries with it a vehicular metaphor that is transporting individuals and implies certain obligations and constraints. 
Walter Benjamin has suggested that "...we are bored when we do not know what we are waiting for." Often when we find ourselves waiting for anything, even a break in the conversation the habit is to grab for the device not just because of compulsion to check one's status/place but from, I think, not wanting to know-however implicit this desire is. Rosen's call for time deepening rejects the use of devices as mere time fillers.
Where we need to start in renewing our thinking about our use of technology is not, perhaps only, in terms of amounts of distraction or impact on our ability to think but in its relationship to our time. Not only should device use be calculated in terms of what we are paying attention to, but also in terms of pushing back on perceived needs on our time by our devices. Devices take less work and investment to get or achieve meaningful or at least noticeable results. People take a lot of time, work and investment of energy. It is easier to mediate relationships through devices that are easy to work and manipulate; perhaps thus keeping the relationship at a level that is easy to work/manipulate. (This is guessing-I don't have good data for this other than my own anecdotal experience. When my wife and I were first dating in college we spent a decent chunk of time on IM. Looking back most of those conversations were largely nonsense and I found that when we were together physically I had to work harder at being as silly as I was online. The relationship didn't grow online but to me it felt like connecting.)
A Sabbath approach to technology, as Rosen posits, requires us to give "...time to one activity or one person, without interruption from gadgets, work, or other people, [to]/will help us slow down and connect."
This takes work, it takes waiting and it takes knowing.

1 comment:

BOB the Malcontent said...

This, of course, not a new idea. the same warnings were given when anything modern was "infiltrating" society - telegraph, radio, TV, cars, you name it, it has all been declared evil at some point. We, as Christians, are called to a life of moderation and balance. Also, we need to understand that Christ modeled how relationships are built: purposeful, one-on-one time with PEOPLE. The gadgets are OK, but we need vis-a-vis for a true relationship to build.