On the Internet

In the midst of our current environment, I’ve been intrigued by how much implicit authority technology has to frame our perspective.

Brain scan imaging demonstrates how the tools we use become extensions of our bodies and minds. Technology affects how we think, work, play and pray. Our humanity has always been linked to our ability to manipulate objects; but it also seems true that objects have power over us.

Technology can’t easily be separated from how we pray or articulate our faith. Our sacred stories moved from speech to script. Eventually they were collected into a codex, and a millenia later, these codexes became mass produced. Scrolls meant to be heard became books meant to be read.

The alphabet itself is technology that allows us to convey meaning, making words physical, so that we can take it from one place to another. The written word was how people could send clear instructions into the future. For those who couldn’t read, the technology of stained glass windows told the story.

Our most recent technological innovations have compressed space and time. In our immediate news cycle, we are invited to react and respond quickly, without thought or reflection, imitating whatever outrage or anxiety that seems most familiar to us. The ancient values of prudence and patience seem quaint, cautious and dull while we are perpetually stimulated with whatever moment of insanity exposed to us.

And yet, technology is not the enemy. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are often fun and useful. They may build real connections. But they are meant to enable connections, not replace them. Cyberspace cannot heal the body, the way a physical presence can.

Yet it is in rest, in patience, in slowness, where we actually find the spirit. It is fine to be busy. It is virtuous to have work. But it is no virtue to worship speed. Over time, choosing a screen over a body corrodes the soul.

I wonder if spending one day a week with no electronic media would enable us to strengthen the tender virtues that are quickly diminishing from our daily practice. It would remind us that we have some authority over the tools we construct, and how we use them. We would be more aware, also, of how our tools have authority over us.

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