news of spirituality’s demise has been greatly exaggerated

“More and more people are noticing how their digital lives are inhibiting their face-to-face relationships.”

— Luke Gilkerson, ‘Family Unplugged – How technology disconnects us from deep relationships’

It’s a familiar refrain.

Two of the most common complaints Christians voice about contemporary information and communication technologies are:

  1. They foster skin-deep connections — with thousands of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ — in place of the genuine relationships face-to-face communication supposedly delivers.
  2. They teache everyone ‘continuous partial attention’ rather than full and focussed attention.

Maybe it’s just me, but this feels a bit like Life Was Better And We Were All More Godly In The Fifties reactionism.

And yet I’m in no hurry to endorse the equal and opposite adulation with which some greet every new technological development. (I fear the authors of The Church of Facebook may succumb to this.)

Of course technology can be harnessed to sidetrack us spiritually. And of course it makes certain particularly noxious distractions more readily available.

But even frequent abuse doesn’t render proper use impossible.

In fact, the very technology that creates the distractions is also providing us with some means to combat them — as for example with the incorporation of a Readability-style feature in the latest version of Safari or the promising programme Freedom.

I’m not trying to suggest that new developments in technology haven’t resulted in changes or that they should be above suspicion.

It’s just that from what I can see, most of the claims made about their effects tend to be overstated — for better and for worse. (For a cautious example of ‘better’ check out this and for ‘worse’ check this out).

In reality, things are just way more complicated.

Some of the complexity we’re experiencing is captured well by this recent article on Wired. It suggests that the rise of Twitter and Facebook is not destroying so much as relocating long-range analytical thought.

Just as with analytical thought, I feel news of spirituality’s demise has been greatly exaggerated.

I’d love to explore this further. But I’m not sure if anyone has done any sustained studies (based on more than anecdote and instinct).

Any suggestions?

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4 comments

  1. I have had many deep and personal conversations on Face Book and through blogging about issues that perhaps would not be shared in a face to face setting.

    Similarly the same thing happens in the context of the telephone counselling organisation that I am part of…

    Many years ago before the Lord healed me of my drinking addiction; I noticed how peoples defences were down at the end of the night and many personal problems would be shared, often with a complete stranger…

    I saw this on 2 levels… one it was easier to talk to a person you didn’t know and most likely would not see again. Secondly… you could face your friends the next morning and excuse the “Rubbish” you were talking as being “Piss talk”…

    It’s also been my observation that in church congregations the fellowship and friendships are often shallow… how often are we surprised by a marriage falling apart; someone’s kids of the rails, etc…

    Again; its my observation that if a person is able to only share to another through the medium of anonymous and “Relative” safety from behind a computer… that has to be better then not communicating with anyone at all…

    The question I ask on a pastoral level is…what are our church leadership and congregations doing to help true “Spirituality” to flourish?

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Craig.

      Thanks too for the reminder that the power of anonymity has been well-known and harnessed by counselling services and support groups of all types for quite a while now.

      Of course, the anonymity that online interactions allows for (but doesn’t necessarily demand) can lead to some pretty poisonous stuff too — although, simply making people attaching their name and email address to it doesn’t remove that danger!

  2. My article was mostly a response to what has been coming out in the New York Times recently about technology, not what it means for the church. I fully agree communications technology has been a great blessing to the church as long as we act deliberately about how we use it.

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