Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Life as We've Know It Over?
Generation Net - Elsewhere USA & Obama's Blackberry

I'm impassioned by thinking about how the world is changing through the use of technology, new ways of understanding reality and our experience of community. Things are speeding up more and more yet our world seems to be falling apart faster and faster. The way we communicate is radically different than it was 5 years ago, let alone 10 or 20 years ago. Yesterday I was at a church meeting during which I communicated with people face to face, through the written word, via text messages, live Twittering feed reflecting on the meeting during the meeting, chatted with someone in Philadelphia about my meeting in Oakland via Facebook, checked in with someone via cell phone, emailed France and browsed the agenda of the meeting on the internet - all within the space of 3 hours in one physical building site context. Was I communicating with others or communicating at them? I came home and then blogged, facebooked and emailed while I ate cookies, read Newsweek and watched the Daily Show on our Tivo. Things are changing? But is it for the better?

I read a helpful book by
Don Tapscott about the changing nature of our culture. Grown Up Digital points to the emergence of the Net Generation (or Milliennials or Generation Y) which outnumbers the Baby Boomers [who have long set the tone for our culture] and is already making a huge transformation in and upon our culture, economy, social structures, educational system and political power (he theorizes that it's most evident in President Obama's election) and that we ain't seen nothing yet. He had a thoughtful interview on Talk of the Nation on election day [link]. Here are 2 pages from books (click on them to expand them) talking about the 8 characteristics of the Net Generation. I also heard a great interview with Dalton Conley on Talk of the Nation [link] regarding his recent book Elsewhere USA, which talks about the ways in which societal/cultural/technological changes are transforming the way we live, blurring the lines between work and leisure, public and private, and altering the way we parent. It's even apparent in this week's Newsweek article on President Obama's Blackberry. [Will the Blackberry Sink the Presidency?]

I'm not into change for the sake of change, yet it does seem that our culture has not only changed, we're in the midst of a massive shift (it's up to you to decide if it's emerging or already done). I wonder about my own life and context: in particular work as a pastor in a church. My work is about communication: sharing hope, teaching and empowering others to think theologically about life, building community, organizing community and accompanying others in grief and mourning. Is that changing? Is my life changing in terms of the border between work and leisure? I find I easily slip into the pattern of always working, checking my Iphone each time an email comes in, cruising facebook to always be "in touch." Are we being drawn into incessant doing and communication? Or are these transformations helpful, empowering news ways of organizing, being together and relating? Does it have to be an either/or situation or can it be a both/and one? I do see that the way we "do" church is increasingly ineffective (or less effective): one person talking to others about God. People in my congregation seem to most effectively respond to a dialogue, when a sermon is about participation, identifying the universal question we share and empowering each of us to dive into it, to reflect from it and to grow spiritually as individuals and a community. This happens not just in a cartesian, 3 point sermon - but most often times in the children's time, at the communion table, in diverse rituals and in particular in the times in which we share our prayers/comments with one another. We're changing. Yet we often proclaim that the church can't change. It has to be our bedrock and anchor, the unchanging thing in the chaos of constant change. We universally affirm that to be alive means that we're growing, changing and evolving. Yet when it comes to God and church maybe we prefer ones that aren't growing (meaning that they're dead) because they make us feel better?


Elena said...

I know we talked about meeting at Barnes and Nobel with all the books we've bought and have not read... but that one sounds right up my alley!

This topic is the crux of how I'm trying to live in the world and be aware of this shift/change/upheaval of communication and social activity. Connected but not really through technology; "a screened existence". I strive to know how to be functional in all communication techniques but not a robot and maintain normal social activity... like talking with people, striking up conversation on the bus, etc. There has to be time away from the interweb.

I find the whole generational shift SUCH a catch 22... and this is not to say I am not online all the time, "checking in"--because I am. However, I fear we, as a population, are beginning to blur work and leisure to the point of no return. I know far too many twenty-somethings that have their work email on their blackberries never allowing them any time away, truly unhinged. We work ALL THE TIME. It's a terrible addiction and a new expectation that I find frightening as I'm looking for work. It's disheartening to realize the new level of expectation placed on the work force.

Ahhh, okay. that's enough for a comment box on your blog. But seriously, this topic fascinates me!! :)

Monte said...

I think that's one of the key challenges (you're right on the money) that you're experiecning. Tapscott (growing up digital) is positive about it all. The Elsewhere USA book is more negative and cautionary. It lifts up that for the first time in history those who are paid more work much more, in the sense that you're expected (according to your pay grade in his research) to always be accessible - ie. blackberry/iphone, check your email while your on vacation - and respond to problems when you're "OFF WORK". It makes us more effecient....yet rather than working less because it's smarter we seem to be trying to do more and obligated to do more.

I by no means against technology AND we have to ask ourselves where is the line? Are we being forced/pulled to be more than human because it's fun, easy, effecient, or maybe even just because it's now possible.

I cross the line.....I know check my email on my phone before making my's the first thing I do in the morning. It's not like I'm a stockbroker or the head of Homeland Security or the President. So what's up with that. It's also (checking email on the phone) the last thing I do in the day - after brushing my teeth and before going to bed. Where is the limit? Am I going to start working at 11:15 to solve a problem that won't change by the morning? It's a scary trap of workaholism and also of fooling My(our)self into thinking that maybe I'm more important than I actually am.

It also goes to say that I feel tugged to check my email when the phone beeps in the middle of a conversation with my kids. What does that communicate to them about their self-worth? What does that say to/about me in terms of where and who I want to be with and where I get my sense of meaning and importance from?

It's a slippery slope that we don't often think reflectively and honestly about.

When do we meet at Barnes & Noble? I'm down!

Elena said...

Another potentially interesting book for you might be "The Price of Privilege" by Madeline Levine. I have it, but have not read it (shocking, I know), but I'm completely intrigued by the idea of it... basically the same subject but focused entirely on teenagers. She finds that these youth have a false sense of connection because they are so web based and rarely have direct conversations and even contact with real people. Sad and true.

I think for lent (I am a non practicing Catholic after all), I am going to try turning off my wireless signals from 8:00pm to 8:00am. I know it seems silly to turn it off when presumably I am sleeping for a significant portion of time. BUT the evenings are when I sit and don't really do anything, but feel like I should be online until ridiculous hours of the night. And the first thing I do in the morning is check my email, like you mentioned too. Sometimes I wish I didn't feel that draw and just went and made my coffee and breakfast without the pressure to return emails before I'm ready to function. Without wireless, I can still communicate with people but only on the phone or in person. I don't know... I'm still formulating. Maybe I will actually aim for 14 hours offline. 6pm to 8am? It's something I'd like to be able to do both as a "practice what you preach" model but also just on principle to see how much the addiction is embedded.

I think there must be a B&N in Redding or Shasta, right? haha