Technology steals my time.
I’ll quickly check Facebook, I tell myself. But a quick check becomes an hour-long foray: scrolling through status messages, chatting with a friend who happens to be online, and skimming multiple photo albums. Coming to my senses while clicking through photos of people I don’t know, I feel alarmed. What am I doing? How did technology become an unconscious priority, soaking up time like a thirsty sponge?
I feel numb. At the end of a long day of teaching and completing household chores, the numbness is a relief — for the moment. Later, I’ll wish I had chosen an alternate way to decompress. The distractions of our instant world do nothing to lower my stress level. They escalate it. I bury my priorities, stuffing them into an unseen corner of my mind and enjoying the brief numbness of the distracted life.
If asked what I value most, I would reply without hesitation: “Relationships.” Relationships with God and other people deliver the most satisfying experiences. The deeper the relationships are, the more honest and truthful they are, the more real they are, the more satisfying they are. I desire deep relationships with God and with the people around me, but often I neglect pursuit of them. I even neglect my own emotions and needs, choosing to retreat into technology-induced numbness.
Technology is a useful tool — and a threat to my priorities. It links me with far-off friends, but keeps me from those who are closest. Socially, the internet creates an illusion of intimacy with others while maintaining insurmountable distance.
It is easy, in some ways, to be vulnerable with others via internet chats or text messages. I type things that I have no courage to say aloud. But is such communication equivalent to face-to-face talk? Text messaging can’t convey body language, emotion, and eye contact. It’ll never be as real as sitting with a friend, listening to the rise and fall of her voice, and nodding when I empathize with her words. Tone cannot be communicated via text. Neither can pain. I can hide behind the computer screen, avoiding honesty and vulnerability.
In Ephesians 4, Paul uses the metaphor of a human body to describe the Church. His imagery is vivid: we are to function as one body, communicating clearly with each other, and maintaining true relationships — “speaking the truth in love” so that we will “grow in every way into Him who is the head — Christ” (4:15).
Paul and the early Church never dreamed of the technological wonders of our culture, but the spirit of his words convince me that he speaks of a closeness between believers that is hardly attainable via status messages and blog comments. The internet is a helpful link, but it does not replace the reality of connecting with people.
The closer I get to another person, the more we grate upon each other’s nerves. We have to talk about difficult things. We see each other’s faults: what can be easily hidden online is soon revealed in person. Paul describes a Body of Christ that is ragged, uncomfortable, and imperfect — yet with hope of redemption. Miraculously, through experiencing the uncomfortable facets of close relationships, I become more like Christ. From annoyance I learn patience. From doubt I learn to trust. From disputes I learn unconditional love.
Another peril of instant communication is its threat to quiet reflection. Armed with cell phone and laptop computer, I expect constant interruptions during my work or quiet time. It is difficult to break away, to leave the laptop at home and silence the cell phone ringer, when I’m aware that urgent messages could be arriving in my absence from the technological world. Snippets of information and communication crowd my mind, interrupting quietness.
In today’s culture, it takes tremendous effort to seek and find time for contemplation. I snatch it in five-minute packages, wondering how medieval monks could spend hours in prayer. Hours? I am fortunate to find ten minutes. And even if I find it, isolating it and pinning it down — sitting in silence before God with no interruptions — is extremely difficult. It doesn’t happen naturally; I have to fight for it. I must ignore the distractions because they never go away.
Technology threatens my relationships with other people and easily robs my time for quiet contemplation. It also distracts me from the reality of relationship with God. My prayers are like twenty-word text messages when they could be warm conversations with my Father. I send quick, thoughtless requests to Him and expect immediate answers in similar form. Then I wonder what’s wrong because God doesn’t text me back. I want Him to conform to the expectations of my society, to make Him into a compliant deity who interacts on my terms.
But God doesn’t want a virtual relationship with me. He wants me to know Him, deeply and fully, as He already knows me. He wants us to have long, loving conversations. He wants me to see Him not as a vending machine, shifting circumstances according to my whims, but as a Father who disciplines and corrects, yet holds and loves. If I restrict my prayer life to blurted one-sentence requests and take no time to dig for the answers my soul craves, I will never grow close to God. Instead, I will keep Him at a safe distance, as if I am hiding behind a screen instead of conversing with Him face-to-face.
I am glad that my soul craves answers, because the craving tugs me away from distractions. Difficult circumstances stretch and pull until all I can do is ask, “Why is this happening?” When I am in pain, the distractions of technology lack their former power to numb my senses. The endless flow of information and communication through phone, television, and internet seems meaningless. My vision clears, and I see that technology is helpless to heal the brokenness of my spirit, heart, and mind.
I close the window of my Facebook page and breathe deeply. The last rays of a gorgeous sunset pour through the window above my desk. I lift my eyes to the plethora of colors: reds, oranges, and yellows painted across the sky. Closing my laptop, I put it away and step outside to see the painting and talk with its Artist. Tempted to feel guilty for wasting another hour of my life, I recognize that there is plenty of grace to cover this and other shortcomings. Standing in the cool breeze of an autumn evening, I feel a renewed desire to live an undistracted life.
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