It ain’ all it’s cracked up to be

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.

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5 thoughts on “It ain’ all it’s cracked up to be

  1. godschildrenorg 09/13/2012 / 4:07 pm

    Couldn’t have said it better myself…tho, I have to say there is an ebb and flow in the number of people with whom FB keeps me connected. Some…news of them never comes to me. A few, FB considers worthy of sending me their info daily. But…if I start “catching up” with people about whom I really care, I’m up until way late at night. My iPhone…ATT has me locked into a plan that IF used outside of the U.S., costs $.99 a minute. I’m learning about my Mother’s Day gift – iPad. But free wi-fi in Romania is not readily available when outside my home. Such a saaaaaadddddddddd story! : )

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  2. Thomas Cox 09/15/2012 / 11:18 pm

    “about 100 involved one or two quick, substantive interchanges, but no ongoing contact”

    Yup, that’s me. Sharing a physical locale still counts for a lot.

    Sure, I could send you the notes on the Romans class I’m teaching, or an .mp3 of the trio sonatina I’ve been hacking on, or more likely I would hire two flutes and a wailing woman to accompany me while I bemoan my angsty existence; but for me most of the value in sharing comes in interpreting the transient, visceral, non-verbal feedback that builds a real relationship. With rare exceptions, that is only conveyed in person.

    Sure, Skype is better than nothing – I have a nephew I’ve only seen via the interweb – but it still isn’t up to capturing the truth in those ephemeral unguarded moments.

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    • Brian Casey 09/16/2012 / 8:13 am

      Appreciate your reading and chiming in, Thomas. For the fun, I’ll take the other side now: I don’t feel I ever really knew you when we were in the same place, and I came to know you better through an e-connected medium. And now, again, upon reading this comment, I can get some pretty fair insight into you, even though I don’t know if you’re 100 pounds heavier than when I saw you (an embarrassing number of) years ago, or whether you’re body-pierced or bald. Appearance aspects aren’t what you were talking about, of course. Mebbe there’s more to *adeptness with writing *than people realize. Although the possibilities for being misunderstood are limitless, and greatly multiplied when communicating sans face and vocal tones, since you can express yourself so well in writing, perhaps the distance isn’t as great with you and others who can write well! -bc

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  3. Rachel 09/17/2012 / 2:35 pm

    I certainly generally shy away from technology (cell phones, smart phones, Facebook, etc), but I have to admit that the few relationships that have been enhanced by technology were completely worth it!

    It drives me absolutely crazy when people who would otherwise be spending time with the people they are with are instead google chatting, texting, etc. On the flip side, having very good friends multiple states away that I’d like to keep in contact with, I appreciate the ability to call them up or google chat for a bit in the evening. My Ohioan friend and I have been best friends for over 10 years, but how would we still be considered “best friends” if we only ever communicated when in person, lacking at least 8 months of the year? That makes an inherent lack-of-ability to be up-to-date on each other’s every day lives.

    I think it’s important to evaluate if particular use of technology is enhancing relationships or distancing people. i.e. If people are there in person, give the attention to the person who is there is important. If it’s not “designated friend” time in person, though, the ability to keep in contact with those farther away through technology is something to be valued!

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    • Brian Casey 09/20/2012 / 9:51 pm

      I know you find more value in FB than I do. For me, most of the time, it’s something between a semi-necessary semi-evil and an annoying intrusion. Some of the difference may be attributable to age/life phase and number of relationships. You may still have a hope of keeping up with most of those people who have ever been significant players in your life. I’ve long since lost that hope, and FB serves to remind me how impossible it is. I think I would have been better off in a less mobile, agrarian society. 🙂

      Cell phones could be put in the same category, really, as could lots of other tools. They are tools, and they should serve people, not the other way around. And no technology is inherently redemptive. It must be put to good use by relationally sensitive individuals who are affected by the fall of Adam. That was to be my main point, however poorly I might have made it. Now I’ll go check FB!

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