A few years ago while at mall in Winnipeg I come across two people walking together at a normal pace texting. It was an odd scene. At the time I couldn’t really place what was odd about it, other than the potential for a super awkward pedestrian collision. I scurried out-of-the-way completely flabbergasted. Then it occurred to me.
They were completely disconnected. Disconnected from each other. Disconnected from the potential awkward mall collision. Disconnected from all that was around them.
Technology has afforded us the beautiful opportunity to connect. There is no doubt that the texting mall walkers were connecting with people important to them. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops have given us the ultimate in mobile connection. I text my wife, send updates to youth group facebook page, check hockey scores and check email all with my mobile device. Texting, facebooking, tweeting, emailing at the touch of a screen at any moment, in almost any place, thanks to my portable 4G Android device.
I remember listening a Charles Adler radio show in memory of Steve Jobs. There was plenty of discussion and review on his impact on the world. Much of the conversation revolved around the cultural impact of the ipod, ipad, and iphone. 45 minutes into the conversation, a gentlemen called ranting about the use of technology by younger generations and how ‘they’ were on their ‘phones and things’ all the time completely oblivious to the world around them. His rant lasted a while until the host finally cut him off. Adlers response has stuck with me. It went something like this; “…given the grand scope of human history, we could say this mobile technology has not been on the map for a very long time. It’s almost like we don’t fully yet understand the implications of its use.” Adler continued on to call it ‘technology etiquette.’ It is almost as if we are learning about the implications of connecting so readily. As a culture we have not yet discovered the proper way in which to use this technology.
Let’s think a little bit about what incarnation means. Incarnational ministry is a practice of presence. Being present with God, as a participant with God in that particular time and place. A divine shout out to the flesh and blood presence of God here on earth. It is the ministry of the moment.
If incarnation and being present in the place and space in which we find ourselves is important then paying attention to that which disconnects us from our present realities is even more important. It becomes a practice of self-discipline in the name of discipleship. It could be a key in understanding this ‘technology etiquette.’ In a youth group I was part of we created a disconnect box. Every student would put their cell phone or other mobile device in the disconnect box. It wasn’t born out of a need to pry them away from their devices. It was a statement to one another that these two hours together are important. They are divine, and they deserve our immediate attention. It was a ministry of incarnation. It was an opportunity to teach our students to be present with one another, and with God… no distractions.
It is quite strange to think of these devices that hold so power to connect actually have just as much, if not more, power to disconnect us from our present reality. But it is a learning process. I am certainly as guilty as anyone. A technology addict myself, I have had gentle reminders from my wife and even my two year old son to put down my phone. May we learn to disconnect so we can indeed connect.
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