24 Questions for Advent: Four
"Why when there're so many of us are there people still alone?" - Tracy Chapman, Why?
The ultimate irony of the development of technologies that give us greater and greater access to one another is that it also results in more and more personal isolation. We are surrounded by people, yet so many suffer from loneliness.
I gave a presentation at a conference several years ago on finding creativity and contemplation in an increasingly cluttered world. In researching how people have responded to technological advances in communication, I found very similar themes:
The printing press is either the greatest blessing or the greatest curse of modern times, sometimes one forgets which it is. - E. F. Schumacher
President Rutherford B. Hayes to Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 on viewing the telephone for the first time: “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”
I have anticipated radio’s complete disappearance…confident that the unfortunate people, who must now subdue themselves to listening in, will soon find a better pastime for their leisure. – H.G. Wells, 1925
Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and in a manner hitherto unknown. – Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, about the experimental television in 1927
Tom Maddox, in a 1994 article for Wilson Quarterly titled "The Cultural Consequences of the Information Superhighway":
We would do well to regulate our enthusiasms accordingly - that is, to remember where love and mercy have their natural homes, in that same material world. Otherwise, we will have built yet another pharaonic monument to wealth, avarice, and indifference. We will have proved the technophobes right. More to the point, we will have collaborated to neglect the suffering of the damned of the earth – our other selves – in order to entertain ourselves.
How can we make sure that we do not “collaborate to neglect the suffering?”
Part of the dynamic of connecting with technology is that we can control what others can see about us...a “virtual self” that can hide what we find less attractive or compelling about ourselves. In so doing, we end up covering up our humanity, and therefore taking away the opportunity for others to see us as we truly are, increasing the isolation we already feel.
We must be intentional. We must create islands in the ever-increasing current of progress to pause, reflect & connect. Here at St. Andrew’s, we are creating more avenues for people to participate in retreats through better technology. But people still need to share spaces. And people still need to find space for God, our most faithful & ultimate companion. "Be still and know I Am"
To be contemplative we must remove the clutter from our lives, surround ourselves with beauty, and consciously, relentlessly, persistently, give it away until the tiny world for which we ourselves responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God.
- Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light