Technology has emerged as our biggest competitor for leisure time: Gen X-ers spend 20.7 hours of leisure time every week on TV and online combined, the majority TC; Gen Y-ers spend even more—22.8 hours, the majority on line—and growing by leaps and bounds. By the time Net-geners reach their twenties, they will have spent more than 20,000 hours on the Internet and an additional 10,000 hours playing video games, a trend producing a radical redefinition of a cultural market in which computer games now outsell movie and music recordings combined.
Most profoundly, perhaps, technology is altering the very assumptions of consumption: thanks to the internet, we believe we can get anything we want, whenever we want it, customized to our own personal specifications. We can shop at three in the morning or ten o’clock at night, expectations of convenience and personalisation that live performing arts organizations—organizations who depend on set curtain times, specific geographic venues, attendant inconveniences of parking, travel and the like—simply cannot meet.
The problem with technology is that it moves so fast and changes so rapidly. We ignore technological developments at our peril. But it is almost impossible in the short term to assess which technological developments will prove helpful to the enterprise of church and which will turn out to be detrimental or merely a distraction.
I have written a blog since July 6, 2008. My first post appeared at www.inaspaciousplace.blogspot.com. I posted 74 times at Blogspot until April 2010. On April 2, 2010 I moved to WordPress where I have so far posted 123 entries. I imagine each blog post takes about an hour to write. I generally post five times a week, meaning that my blog consumes about five hours a week. Is this time well spent? Is it self-indulgent? Could I be using my time in better ways? How do I assess this technology as a potential tool for ministry?
According to my WordPress statistics my blog has recorded 362 comments in the past 6 months. That is an average of 60 interactions per month. Are these worthwhile connections? Do they help anyone in their spiritual lives? Are they a means of building the church?
It may take years to answer these questions. In the meantime, life is speeding by. And perhaps I should be spending more time communicating with my 100 “friends” on Facebook, or learning to “Twitter,” or to “Tweet.” But it all takes time and soon, I may be passing my parishioners in the street and not recognize their faces.
Churches will not survive unless they have some awareness of how to use the tools technology increasingly makes available. I have lost track of the number of newcomers to our church who have said to me, “I found your website and thought you looked interesting.” But technology has its drawbacks.
People may hunger for connection and meaningful engagement in the human community. But a great deal of popular technology inhibits meaningful interactions between people. When the wall of your home is adorned with a 32 ‘’ plasma flat screen TV that captures 900 channels and pumps out surround-sound audio, it is hardly tempting to go to the church for a quaint movie night. When you can spend the evening reconnecting on Facebook with friends from your past who live thousands of miles away, it is hard to drag yourself away to join a work party at church to keep the fabric of your church building in good repair.
In an interview with David Lipsky, David Foster Wallace pointed out the risk technology poses when we use it as a substitute for human relationship.
I think one of the reasons that I feel empty after watching a lot of TV, and one of the things that makes TV seductive, is that it gives the illusion of relationships with people. It’s a way to have people in the room talking and being etnertaining, but it doesn’t require anything of me. I mean, I can see them, they can’t see me. And, they’re there for me, and I can receive from the TV, I can receive entertainment and stimulation. Without having to give anything back but the most tangential kind of attention. And thatis very seductive.
The probem is it’s also very empty. Because one of the differences about have a realperson there is that number one, I’ve gotta dos some work. Like, he pays attention to me, I gotta pay attention to him, You know: I watch him, he watches me. The stress level goes up. But there’s also something nourishing about it, because I think like as creatures, we’ve all got to figure out how to be together in the same room.
Interacting with a machine created to meet a specific human desire, is not the same as entering into the messy, awkward business of human relationship. Church is increasingly a challenge for people who spend many hours satisfying their needs through a variety of technological devices.
Even more insidious, Cameron suggests, technology teaches us we can get what we want exactly when we want it without waiting, without pain, and after the initial expense, without cost.
The church offers a slow, sometimes painful life of self-sacrifice and surrender. Jesus calls us to “take up our cross daily” in order to follow him. Dying to self is never going to be wildly popular. The message of surrender will never communicate well on an IPhone.
What risks are there for the church in the use of modern technology?
How might the central message of the church be in conflict with technology?
How might the church utilize new forms of technology to enhance connection among people and to deepen engagement?