My father was born in 1908 and died in 1995. He lived to see incredible changes in the world during the span of his life. Growing up on a farm, he worked hard even as a child with milking cows by hand at 5:00 in the morning, and with shelling lima beans for the vegetable route his father ran to the nearby town of Phillipsburg, NJ. Dad remembers the day when, resting the horses on a farm lane, all sorts of whistles sounded in the nearby town at the same time – signaling the end of World War 1. Dad attended a one-room schoolhouse, saw the beginnings of indoor plumbing and rural electrification, the advent of the automobile, advances in radio and television, the space program, and the beginnings of the computer age.
My own lifespan has seen incredible change, though it seems to me they pale relative to dad’s experience. Ancient times in my memory are of simple black and white TV and a telephone that was on a “party line.” The most dramatic changes that have affected me are the computer age innovations in varied communications devises, along with the huge changes in the way church ministry is done – especially in the area of music. Of the latter, all my training was done in a classical background of choral and orchestral study – assuming that music would always be this way in church … oh my!
But ultimately it is the computer that has most changed the way I do life. I look back now at my college and graduate school years and cannot imagine how I did nine consecutive years of education after high school without anything more advanced than an electric typewriter! Given the literal hours upon hours of every day that I now work on a computer, I hardly remember life without such! What in the world did I do with my time? I probably watched more television – though I’ve never ever watched too much compared to most folks. I guess I spent a lot of time playing with the boys when they were little … though I remember in those early ministry years I had few nights at home – was always going to a meeting, making visits, or leading discipleship groups. I have horrible memories of the kids crying when I would leave the dinner table to rush off to do some church thing … again!
Now, if I walk out of the house and forget my phone, I feel completely lost and disconnected from the world – fearing there are a dozen things going on that I’m unaware of, but should be hearing about. This condition has a name – nomo phobia – the fear of being disconnected without a working cell phone.
And God forbid the computer goes down on me! I am honestly not sure I could function again in a world without this connectivity and this tool. My cabinet files, however, are still filled with hundreds of pages of handwritten study notes and sermons from my earlier life.
I am a member of the Hagerstown Rotary Club. As such, I get a monthly Rotarian Magazine. There was an article in the last issue that really spiked my interest. It is called “Tech Savants: Five thing you need to know about the gadget generation” by a Patty Lamberti – a professor of journalism at a Midwestern University. She says of the young adult generation:
1. They are blind to technology etiquette. By this, she means that this generation cannot resist continually fussing with their devices – even during class or at other inappropriate times. This they do without much thought – evidencing a narcissistic culture where it is all about how what is wanted will be pursued – NOW.
2. Multitasking is hurting their brains. They cannot stop themselves from doing several tech things at a time, and even scientific research has shown that students who spend lots of time online have less gray matter in their brains.
3. They dislike conversing face to face. The writer spoke about how quiet it is in her room before and after class – that few students are conversing, but are rather working with their devices. Many of this generation don’t want to get into a lot of personal conversations, because it may take too long and be annoying. Tweeting, texting, and posting gives them a better control.
4. Their only news comes from Facebook. The professor wrote that 99.5% of her students had FB accounts, but only about 10% read newspapers or followed this news beyond FB postings of friends – and most of that was pop culture.
5. Life without technology leaves them depressed and anxious. The professor challenged the students to a project also employed by other researchers – to go 48 hours without technology, and then write about the experience. The most common words used to describe the time: lonely and depressed.
Her final line is that perhaps over time for this generation, “they will learn to rule technology and not let it rule them.”
The modern technological world presents wonderful tools for all of us … and especially for those of us involved in ministry. But there are challenges with it. The article reminded me of some of the difficulty we have even found as a church in getting our young adult generation to spend time together in group activity. The fact is that God did not wire us to be successful without intimate relationships with others, and ultimately with Him. Sooner or later, this need has to prevail.
I don’t want to go back to the pre-technology world. I have made a renewed commitment to keep up with new technology “to the end” … which is why you’ll see me around church carrying and oft speaking from a computer tablet. But, these things are tools and the accoutrements of a passing and dying material world. Let’s remember that.