The January 1 edition of the New York Times contained an editorial by Pico Iyer that caught my attention. Iyer speaks of joining a group of advertising professionals in a global forum in Singapore focused on "Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow." The editorial was profound in that it acknowledged, without moral opining or apocalyptic fervor, what is increasingly obvious: we have more ways to communicate with less and less to say. The irony is that, in one generation, we have moved from desiring "time-saving" electronic devices to trying to get away from those same devices that have now have invaded every dimension of our lives. For example, in 2007, Intel experimented with a 4-hour quiet time every Tuesday morning for its hundreds of engineers and managers. The experiment was recommended by a majority of the participants to be extended throughout Intel. The uber-connected are now paying for Freedom software that can disengage them for up to 8 hours from the very life blood of their existence. The cool factor in this "brave new world" is now acknowledged as having a long reach that is increasingly being seen as counterproductive. The advertising seminar that Iyer was a part of did not focus on some new aggressive campaign that offered a new silver bullet for global capitalism, but actually regressed to a discussion about how these sharp professionals could find "stillness" in life apart from their daily franeticism.
I have a growing hunch that too much of Christianity has bought the wow factor of our current technological connectedness and only asked the reasonable, but limited question, "How can we harness this for God's purposes?" That necessary question of strategy needs to be preceded by a theological inquiry as to the capability of even inanimate objects to wield long-term destruction on what it means to follow Jesus in the early 21st century.
The urgency to slow down is not new. In the 17th century, Blaise Pascal said, "Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries." Henry Thoreau's observations, coined in 19th century parlance, suggested that the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute doesn't necessarily carry the most important messages. Twentieth century communications guru, Marshall McLuhan, who argued that the medium was the message, also said that when things come at you very fast, you lose touch with yourself. The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer, and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best of them: the information age came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through the data. Certainly the Apostle Paul encountered a similar crowd in Athens who are said to have spent their time doing nothing, but talking about and listening to the latest ideas (Acts 17:21)
Notably, Paul's response to these hipster Athenians was not to castigate their aesthetics nor to fall into their addiction to the latest idea. Paul pointed out what was essential when he said, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and doesn't live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands as if He needed anything. Rather He (God) gives everyone life and breath and everything else" (Acts 17: 24-25).
Could it be that the role of a follower of Jesus in these days of technological progress is to lead lives where essential replaces novel as a sought after commodity?
Byron D. Klaus