Dr. Trace Haythorn: Electronic Erosion

In a recent edition of the UK periodical Standpoint, writer Lionel Shriver bemoans the spiritual cost of the electronic gadgetry which have insinuated themselves into our lives in ways that leave us feeling as if we can not live without them (http://bit.ly/bNU3Qp). She writes,

The more gadgets promise to do for us, the more complex they grow, and thus the more fragile and the more likely to fail. Given the frequency with which whole businesses are paralysed due to some obscure IT crash, the Malfunction Tax surely costs Western economies billions per year. So maybe they should print warnings on digital packaging, just as on ciggies: "Do not purchase unless able to spare time and hair-tear when device craps out."

All this newfangled junk costs us in spiritual terms, too, if only because we don't understand it. I don't mean we don't know how to "right click" to retrieve a menu, I mean we don't understand it...Since every new thingamajig may capriciously go on the fritz but only after having insinuated itself as indispensable, you've just handed another inanimate chunk of plastic the power to make you cry.

I had coffee with a friend this morning who shared a story of accidentally backing over her Blackberry on a Sunday afternoon, leaving her "disconnected" until Monday morning. She described feeling lost and fearful, unable to focus because of her concern for what she might miss.

I'd like to express outrage at this notion. I'd like to say such things are pitiful and should be scorned. But ... I must come clean. To not check my email takes discipline. To leave the electronic devices behind when I sit at a table with family or friends feels like a kind of personal commitment. To hear the buzz or ping that tells me a me email has arrived and not to answer it leaves me edgy, anxious, distracted. Pretty pathetic, isn't it? Of course, I want to know how familiar it is for you as well.

If good discernment comes in faithful listening, in attending to the movement of the spirit, and in moments of silence, how do these tools of our culture get in the way of our relationship with God? Can I discern the call of God if I'm so worried about the next email or text message that might come? Then again, can God speak through even these media? Lord have mercy, I hope so.

Trace Haythorn

[Taken with permission from The Fund for Theological Education's On Call Blog.]