I am leading a four week series titled “God is Green” with my Sunday school class, and today’s topic was “My Ipod is Going to Save Me – Technology: Friend of Foe?”. I had a basic outline in my head for this lesson, and had a handful of sources ready – until I listened to a podcast of Shane Hipps titled “Spirituality of the Cellphone” that he delivered at Mars Hill on 3/30/2008. (I saw Shane speak at the Fermi Q conference in NYC on 4/11/2008 on a similar subject). Shane’s podcast articulated everything I was going to bumble through for my lesson, so instead of ripping off his ideas, I played a 30 minute segment of the podcast during class. We didn’t have very much time afterward to unpack and digest the material, so I am going to attempt to do it here. I highly recommend this podcast to anyone interested in the technology, anthropology, psychology, and spirituality of the digital age – Shane has a unique perspective given his background.
One of the profound points to his message was the breakdown of the spirituality of the Digital Age. Using two cellular telephone ads as examples, he pulls two threads describing the impact of current state of technology:
- Our digital media connects us with people very far away.
- Our digital electronic age actually separates from those that are nearest to us.
Both things (good and bad) are happening simultaneously – paradox. We are described as a “Tribe of Individuals”. We are connected all the time, and yet experience isolation and loneliness.
The paradoxical implications of the digital age are
- Inoculating our need to be together. (Decreasing the importance of “Presence”)
- Creating a spiritual age of empathy at a distance.
Let’s unpackage these a bit further. Through our TV, internet, radio, IM, we can vicariously experience the weight of planetary suffering: 9/11, followed by a tsunami, and along comes a hurricane, …. We vicariously experience these culturally devastating events as soon as they happen in our media, along with the daily murder, famine, genocide, incest, disease, hunger of the daily tragedies. Our response is one of empathy – “We have to do something for these people”, so we unleash billions of dollars for about a month and then get shocked into doing the same for the next tragedy that arises. We are connected and we care about all the tragic events going on in the world, but because there is so much of it, we develop a sense of helplessness and hopelessness – “What can I do?”.
The human psyche is not designed to comprehend the totality of all human suffering.
When you extend your emotional life globally, you are cauterizing the nerves of compassion that can be extended in your own community, backyards, and homes.
The entire podcast is excellent. He also has a book out titled The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church. Amazon is out of stock, so I had to purchase it from a smaller bookstore. I am looking forward to reading this book.
So, How much mediated communication do you depend on these days?
I want to challenge you all to balance your mediated communication with authentic presence with those close to you and those that need it. You may find that you are the one that actually needs it the most.