Technology and living life at secondhand



Derek writes:

It is impossible to live our lives without relying upon modern technology. Driving to the shops, phoning a friend, shopping on-line, watching TV, flying on holiday and a million other every-day activities all rely on technology that previous generations could never have imagined. But do we ever wonder what impact this reliance has on our lives?

Eugene Peterson in his excellent book “Christ plays in ten thousand places” has a vision of life lived deeply and creatively; ”It is the task of the Christian community to give witness and guidance in the living of life in a culture that is relentless in reducing, constricting, and enervating this life”

Peterson goes on to talk about the main obstacles to living deeply. The barrier that really caught my attention was that of unthinkingly allowing technology to determine the way we live our lives. He says (following Albert Borgmann) “We have permitted a technology-saturated way of life to disengage us from what is essential to our humanity, whether in relation to things or people. As a result we live at secondhand: relationships atrophy, enjoyment diminishes, life thins out…Used without discrimination, technology disincarnates our lives, the polar opposite of what takes place in Jesus in his incarnation, the em-body-ment of God among us”

At the end of his discussion on technology he quotes a phrase from Walker Percy that gave me much pause for thought “How does it happen that we know so much and can do so much and live so badly”?

Looking at my life I have been amazed at how unthinking my use of all or any technology has become. I can’t help feeling that our greatest needs are for deep connections and profound engagement with God, people and planet/creation and that when technology divorces us from these it becomes an enemy not a friend.

Not that I’m suggesting that we become Luddites and trash our smart-phones and revert to horse-drawn carriages. However, the challenge to me is how can I live in the tension of connecting profoundly AND taking advantage of the available technology.

Maybe the following ideas are a start:

  1. Walk or cycle rather than take the car or public transport. If it means getting up 10 minutes earlier before work then believe me, it’s worth it. Get off the bus or tube a stop or two earlier than usual and walk the final stretch. (If you take the tube to work there’s a great tube map here that shows walking times between stops).
  2. Engage with colleagues when you arrive in the office or start a meeting. Ask personal questions and show an interest in their replies. You may find staff turnover improving too!
  3. Meet with, where possible, rather than e-mail or phone.
  4. Plant something and watch as it grows.
  5. Take time out daily for silence and solitude. Pascal said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’
  6. Cook a meal for someone. Ready meals don’t count.
  7. Avoid looking at any screens after 9 pm. End the day talking with persons, human or divine. Skype is allowed