Growing up in south central Pennsylvania I have always had an interest in the Amish and Mennonites. To the casual observer, it would appear that the Amish are more extreme, conservative and withdrawn than the Mennonites—ah, but not so! Some Mennonites are less of this world than their brethren, the Amish—they are “more Amish than thou.” One thing that I can’t quite put my finger on—why is technology before a certain date… and what is that date… acceptable, while technology after that time is not acceptable? I mean, think about it… the wheel, mechanical machinery, harnesses on their horses, etc. are all forms of technology and were probably thought of as the “marvel” of their day—I mean, think of the first guy to have the wheel… the conversation with his neighbor might have gone something like this…
“Hey Harvey, what’s this?”
“It’s the wheel. Latest technology. It’s wheel 1.0, the first version.”
“What does it do?”
“WHAT DOES IT DO?! Well, egghead, it rolls. I hear tale that wheel 2.0 will have an axle and ….”
But, I digress.
So, when I received this article from the Denison Journal on the family that lives like it’s 1986, I was intrigued:
The McMillans are an unmarried couple, raising a boy and a girl. That’s not unusual in today’s culture. But here’s what is unusual: they use no technology that was invented after 1986. They have phones but no smartphones, videos but no DVDs, photos but no Instagrams, TV but no cable. They bank in person and read paper books. The reason? They decided that technology was cheating their children of their childhoods. Why 1986? Because that’s the year they were born.
I’m glad Janet didn’t ask me to make the same decision. Since we were born in 1958, I’d be typing this Cultural Commentary on a manual typewriter and mailing it to you in an envelope with a stamp. Each morning’s essay would cost $38,250 to deliver, or $9.5 million a year in postage, and would be out of date when it arrived. The Internet can be a very good thing.
Unless you’re hacked on it. A technology expert named Mat Honan recently had his Google account deleted, his Twitter account compromised, and all the data on his iPhone, iPad and MacBook erased. It turns out the hackers were able to use his Apple and Amazon accounts to get to the rest of his technology.
One solution is to leave the Internet entirely. A year ago, a technology writer named Paul Miller embarked on a “digital sabbatical.” He intended to spend the year reading the best books, working on his own novel, and generally finding himself.
A year later, he returned to the Internet. His sabbatical was not as successful as he had hoped. It began well—he wrote half his novel, read Greek literature, and had deep conversations with his sister. But he discovered that physical mail can be as overwhelming as email and video games can consume as much time as Web surfing. What he was seeking was no more available off line than on.
He’s right. Depression rates have more than doubled in recent years, while anxiety rates have doubled in the last 30 years among teenagers. The technology revolution has changed how we communicate, but not who we are. There’s still a God-shaped emptiness in each of us, as Pascal noted. And we’re still tempted to fill that emptiness with everything but him.
Novelist Henry Miller: “Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.” Movie director Stanley Kubrick claimed, “however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Jesus disagrees, claiming that “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). He calls us to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) by reflecting his light as the moon reflects the sun. Of course, as our world can cause an eclipse of the moon, so it can cause an eclipse of the soul. When it gets between us and the Source of our light, it leaves us and our culture in darkness. But when we focus fully on Jesus, we reveal him to those who deserve to see his love in ours.
The old hymn said it well: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Similarly, Louis C.K.’s modern technology rant on Conan O’Brien is going viral. Many say the comedian hit the nail on the head when he told O’Brien why he won’t let his kids own smartphones. “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something,” he told O’Brien.
As most of you know, I’ve been jobless since the end of July. During this time I’ve had a lot of time on my hands and I’ve made some observations that tie into Louis C.K.’s rant and the McMillans. Unlike the McMillans, I don’t believe that technology, in and of itself, is bad. However, I do think we spend too much time (myself included) tied to it. Go to any public place and you’ll see it—people with their noses “glued” to their smartphones. They aren’t looking up, they aren’t talking (well, they might be texting) and they probably are not even aware of who is around them. You probably don’t even have to leave your home to find everyone looking at their device instead of conversing/interacting. For some, the advent of the next iDevice is more meaningful than the advent of Jesus Christ.
I’m not advocating anything like a moratorium on smartphones, tablets, etc. But, for me, during this time of relative idleness, I have resisted ebooks for real books; eBibles for real Bibles and I have noticed something peculiar: interacting with words on a page is somehow more fulfilling than the e-versions. Highlighting passages in my Bible is somehow more meaningful than doing so electronically.
I have probably rambled long enough and I appreciate those who have read this far. I will close by saying that I hope that the printed page does not go away and I hope there’s always a need for bookstores and libraries.