Digital technology. It’s not that it leaves much to be desired itself—my goodness, it can manage some impressive feats these days. But it does break down a lot. I use enough digitech to know these things — some of its capabilities and quite a few of its limitations — although I remain pretty ignorant of substrata such as computer gaming.
I held out till 2011, believe it or not, before getting involved in texting, but I’m now pretty adept with my smartphone. On it, I use a decibel meter, a notepad, a calendar app and widget, a flashlight and compass, a metronome, a tuner, a major-league baseball app, a calculator, the Google Drive app that allows me to work with documents descending from the cloud, and mapping/GPS/location applications including AAA TripTik™. There are the weather and news apps that I use once in a while, a Bible app, the ability to search for WWW-based info on the fly . . . oh, and of course the WordPress blogging app. I still resist thumb-texting, since it’s too slow for my taste — I dictate texts with the voice recognition software and edit with my thumbs when necessary. All great stuff, if it serves us instead of the other way around. (BTW, Twitter is a no-go for me — I have so far opted out of it because it’s just one more thing to do and seems to offer an even more truncated, ostensibly up-to-date-but-ever-more-shallow pool of information bits.)
But digitech ain’ all it’s cracked up to be. For instance, it claims to get, and keep, us in touch with people. Does it really do that? No, we do that—whether our effort takes the form of handwriting a letter and affixing a stamp to an envelope, calling and leaving a voice mail, texting, Facebooking, or actually stopping by in person. And you know what I’ve noticed about myself and a bunch of others? While physical location doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to (for example, I don’t even think about whether a call is “long distance” anymore), it sometimes takes some kind of physical proximity for me to think about someone and make the effort to keep in touch.
For instance, I’ll drive through a corner of Ohio and think of a friend who lives there and give her a call. Or I’ll be in Kansas City and suddenly remember a friend there. Or I’ll hear about an event in Texas and look up a guy I used to know there. Maybe I’m weird. (Maybe more than “maybe.”) But do you notice the same kind of thing? Regardless of the cyber-reality that pervasively affects our world today—a shrinking, digitally connected world that has the theoretical capacity to keep people in touch, regardless of geography—we are still pretty geographically oriented.
Do you have a bunch of Facebook friends that merited one or two catch-up messages when first friended, but with whom you have no ongoing contact? How much better is that than the ol’ telephone? Of my 330 FB friends, I think
- about 200 connections have resulted in no real, relational contact at all
- about 100 involved one or two quick, substantive interchanges, but no ongoing contact
- a couple dozen have involved to my learning of news bits that touched my heart, or informed me, or led me to prayer, or some combination of the above
- only about a half-dozen relationships have truly been enhanced through the FB technology
Technology (dare I point the finger specifically at the ever-encroaching Facebook?) that purports to eliminate distance between people really doesn’t. Plus, all the new activities possible during our days and evenings because of microchips mean that “down time” (originally a technologically based term) is harder to come by than ever, and relationships can doubly suffer because of encroaching technology. Does anyone else worry about the creeping inability to focus on the person across the room from you, because of IM dings and tweets and ringtones and that nagging feeling that if you don’t put something into your digital calendar right then, the sky is gonna fall?
Whether it’s Facebook or your smartphone or computer keyboard or your copier or your doorbell, it’s all bound to be cracked or broken at some point. And it seems to me that it’s all more easily associated with our brokenness as a race than with our redemption or potential.