This is one of those paradoxical posts for me. Just a few posts ago, I was writing about some of the cool new technologies I've been playing with lately. And it's true, I'm a geek and I really enjoy new technology. I've become addicted to Twitter, I enjoy keeping up with my friends on Facebook, Skype has allowed me to meet some great new people and record some podcasts, and that's been a lot of fun. Writing this blog has enabled me to "meet" some great people all over the country who I wouldn't have even know existed. If you've followed my Twitter feed, you know I recently got an iPod Touch, and that's been a fantastic help in keeping up with my e-mail, calendar, weather, directions and my aforementioned Twitter addiction. Being "In" with Verizon has allowed me to keep in touch with my family and friends inexpensively, even though we live all over the country. iChat has also been a valuable tool for staying in touch. Maybe too valuable, in fact.
I got thinking about this the other day when our webmaster, Mike, was "hoteling" (a space management term used to describe having part-time employees work in someone else's office since we're out of room) in my office. I was working on my laptop, he on his and suddenly my iChat window popped open. It was Mike, not 6 feet away from me saying, "Check out this website..." I wrote back that it was great that through technology we could now sit just feet from each other and not actually have to talk to each other. I was joking, as Mike and I get along really well. But, as in all good humor, there was an element of truth.
This concept was further reinforced the other day when I heard Shane Hipps speak at Mars Hill (not that I was there, I was listening to a podcast on my iPod...oh the irony) on the Spirituality of the Cell Phone. Shane is a former ad agency big-shot who felt a call to full-time ministry. He went from selling Porsches to becoming an ordained Mennonite minister. A typical career track, I suppose. Anyway, Shane talked about how technology is great for allowing us to keep in touch, but at the same time, it's destroying our sense of community. An overstatement? Maybe, but then again maybe not.
I often think back the neighborhood where I grew up. It was a small town, and we lived on a Y-shaped street. We knew probably 80% of the people on the street (about 2 dozen houses), and were friends with most of them. All summer long there would be cookouts and parties at each other's houses. The ladies were constantly visiting with each other, and whenever there was a project to do at someone's house, you could count on help from the neighbors. Contrast that to today. One of the biggest challenges we face at Upper Room is people complaining about being lonely and not having a sense of community. This is in spite of the fact that we offer dozens of ways for people to connect.
I find even in my own life, I am far more apt to spend time reading the blogs of people I've never met than I am walking across the street to chat with my neighbor. When I need to communicate something to my tech team, I am far more inclined to send an e-mail instead of picking up the phone and calling. With the price of gas, I would rather buy a webcam for my mom and sister and simply video chat than drive the 2,000-mile round trip to NY to see everyone this summer.
At this point, I should probably point out that I don't think technology is bad. I make my living using it, and I think all the new ways we have to communicate are great. What concerns me, especially in my own life, is loosing the ability to and desire for personal, face-to-face contact. We have gone from being a culture of oral communication, to written communication to digital communication. Along the way, we've started to loose some interpersonal skills.
Techies are especially susceptible to this. Many of us by nature are introverts, and prefer the quiet world of our tech booths to other "out there" ministries. In fact, one could argue that it's that desire and ability to focus and concentrate that makes us so good at what we do. The downside is that all these new forms of technology enable us to withdraw into our own technological world where we don't have to interact with anyone.
Yet I don't think that is what God has called us to. Jesus didn't text us and say, "love u and want to save u fr ur sins." He didn't set up a webinar to explain His plan for salvation. He came to earth, and interacted with humanity in all of our messiness. He talked to people. I find myself challenged by this to be honest. Sometimes (most times?) I would rather just send an e-mail.
Again, I don't think we need to abandon all of these new communication methods. In and of themselves, they are not evil or wrong. At the same time, I am challenging myself (and you too, I suppose) to be more intentional about actually interacting with people, the flesh and blood kind. Personally, I'm trying to strike a balance between having alone-time (I am an introvert after all, I need alone-time to recharge), and being around people. We're trying to have people over for dinner more often; many weeks the tech team goes out after the services to just hang out. I'm trying to meet with my leaders monthly. We're starting up training that will give us time to spend together.
If we are called to live like Jesus, and I believe we are, we need to engage the people around us. If we can figure out how to strike the appropriate balance between digital interaction and the live, fact-to-face kind, we can make a significant difference in this world. What say you?