The internet wasn’t working for almost the entire day. I got up this morning and all I wanted was to check facebook to see if an inbox message I had sent out last night had been replied to. Then I just wanted to check my email. The router didn’t work. I found myself frustrated… not a good way to start the morning. No problem, I would just go to the library to see if the internet there worked. It didn’t either. I went almost the entire day without the internet.
It reminded me of how technological I have become and how dependent on the internet I am. I try to do the discipline of “Bible before breakfast”, but it seems that even before I start into my morning prayers a short trip to visit Facebook is in order. This semester I have been grappling with the connection between technology and the Christian faith in one of my seminary courses on intentional living in an age of diversion. For this class, I am reading through a book by Arthur Paul Boers “Living Into Focus”.
One thing this book has taught me is about how social networking curbs our loneliness as a society and yet at the same time makes us more lonely because it limits our face to face interactions. Personally, I find the internet a great tool for connection – it’s how I chat with my Ontario buds for hours while hundreds of miles apart in Indiana (okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration perhaps). Facebook is also how I keep up to date on Mennonite news and who’s getting engaged or married or having kids. Sometimes I even get excited for people that I’m only acquaintances with.
Yet at the same time, Facebook provides me with a false sense of identity. I used to have close to 1000 friends. One day I got tired of this, since I hardly knew these people – most of them were random people I bumped into in the hallways of Tyndale, so I deleted close to 400 of them. Yet, I still have over 600 “friends”, but how many of these “friends” really know anything about me or vice versa? How many of these “friends” are people I could talk to about anything and everything, could go to for advice, could give advice to, would invite for an overnight stay at my house? My guess? Less than 50 of them. That’s not to say I don’t care about the others, I am still interested in their lives to an extent, but that is to say many of them are still at the acquaintance not friendship level.
I’m also aware of how technology takes away from my quiet times with God. On the one hand, I’m spending all of this money on Spiritual direction, planning silent retreats, and listening to Taize music, yet on the other hand, my life is constantly filled with distractions and noise. This last week alone, I have filled almost all of my free time watching YouTube clips and movies, have spent countless hours on Facebook, have become addicted to blogging, have played online games and listened to online music, and Skyped for 2 hours with one of my closest friends from Tyndale. My cell phone is always on me and even when I go to church I am greeted with by the friendly usher and the friendly powerpoint slide presentation. I can access my church bulletin online and can use my phone to call up the Scripture passage.
I’m trying to find a happy medium between the technological age and that Old Time religion. It’s a hard road to follow. I have heard of a few experiences which really make me excited for the potential technology has in the worship setting. Churches which have young adults text questions to the pastor and thus engage more in worship. I have even heard of a church where an Iranian woman used her cell phone in the service to call her husband who was still in Iran so that he could listen to the preaching since Christianity was illegal over there.
Yet, I have heard of many other stories which make me feel like technology needs to stay out of the church as much as possible. Youth groups that get together only to watch movies or to play Wii without even interacting with one another. As a preacher, I have also experienced a few (perhaps one or two) sermons that I have preached where I tried to use powerpoint or a YouTube clip and the technology invariably failed leaving things slightly awkward to say the least.
I do think technology can be a very powerful and helpful tool so long as churches do not rely too heavily on it. But I am challenging myself to find that happy medium.