Over the past couple of days, Ryan and I have been listening to a series of lectures given at a local church by a Wheaton College communications prof, Dr. Read Mercer Schuchardt. He studied under Neil Postman at NYU, and I guess his official area of expertise is what he calls, "media ecology," that is, the effects of media on our environment.
In many ways, he levels the age-old criticisms against media and technology that we've all likely heard. It isolates us, for one. But there's more to it than it. He talks about the pathologizing of our culture and its direct correlation with new technologies. Whereas we tend to think of these pathologies (e.g. depression) as "abnormal" responses, he talks of them as "normal responses to abnormal stimuli." What gives the most weight to his talk, I think, is his personal lifestyle choices: he does not own a t.v., personal computer, cell phone, or iPod. He doesn't facebook, text, blog, etc. His choices are what he would call his Christian resistance to culture.
He does not prescribe his choices for everyone, but he does challenge each of us to consider the following questions as we use our technologies.
1. Does this technology attract or repel relationships?
2. Will it enrich my "present presence," or my ability to be fully here now?
3. Will it embody and incarnate me or disembody and disincarnate me?
4. Will it allow me to hear the still small voice of God or will it only contribute to the distracting din of cultural noise?
5. Will it increase true religion, that is, the care for widows and orphans?
6. Will it increase or decrease my attachment to and corruption by the world?
For the first time, I think, I've started to see how some of my use of technology has become a substitute for real relationships and even an avoidance of people. And his point is well-taken: the gospel message was incarnated, and that's got to mean something.
My first steps in response to the lectures were to give back the first season of West Wing we'd borrowed from friends and make phone calls last night rather than emailing.
We'll see what's to come.