Gators and Email
So I’ve been having a good blog discussion the past couple days with Steve and Chris about technology and specifically the internet. Our basic question is whether our world has become too digitized. Have the benefits of electronic interaction come at too high a cost? It was noted that even with greater access to information and virtual community there is also a sense of isolation that comes from spending large amounts of time online.
I took my kayak out this morning and spent some time reflecting on those questions. I certainly see the potential pitfalls with our high tech life. As I was paddling past spanish moss with even the sounds of highway traffic fading into the distance, I heard a chime go off behind me. My phone, sealed in a dry bag and clipped behind my seat had just downloaded an email. I laughed out loud, scaring a couple herons. I got an email (actually several) while I was floating in the middle of nowhere (I found out later that half the emails were junk…junk mail in the middle of swamp).
But you know what? I was perfectly capable of choosing not to check those emails…and I didn’t, I just kept paddling.
There were several little switch-backs and coves that I hadn’t explored yet so I wandered into them today. I found a couple places that were nice and shaded with a good breeze, so I just stopped my kayak and watched the wildlife. There’s a little yellow bird that I haven’t been able to identify yet. If you sit still long enough the fish will swim right up by your boat. I thought it was funny that I didn’t see any alligators.
Eventually I made it down to the lake. Turns out that ALL the gators were at the mouth of the bayou. The water was kinda low and there were whole schools of feeder fish splashing on the sandbars…I saw about 10-15 gators in about a 50-100 yard stretch of water. I let the current drift me where it wanted and I just watched…a couple times the stupid fish jumped into my boat. (Mullets though, nothing to keep) I took out my phone and took a couple pictures of gators and one huge bullfrog.
I realized that I’d spent more time floating than I meant to (no big deal because today is my day off!!!) and so I called Rachel to tell her I’d be a little later. While I was at it I sent my brother a picture of a gator with the message, “this is how my morning’s going!”
As I paddled back upstream I thought a lot about how technology can indeed isolate us – we can spend time looking a pictures or videos of nature rather than getting out in it ourselves. We can text message someone without actually talking to them. But today, technology didn’t interfere with me real life interaction. On the contrary, I was able to get in touch with my wife and let her know that she didn’t have to worry (which meant that I didn’t have to hurry!).
Balance is important (which I was reminded of as I was getting out of the kayak and just almost bit it in front of a bunch of folks about to launch their canoes!). Even on this trip, I could have allowed my connection to technology to get in the way of a good time of silence and solitude – but it didn’t.
In addition to balance (or maintaining tension between extremes) perspective also plays an important role in the conversation about the costs and benefits of technology. For some the cost may be too high. Chris was talking about how easy it is to get sucked into answering emails and working in the evening. I remember as a youth minister times when teens would be hanging out together and would go home so that they could instant message one another.
However, we live a LONG way from our family. From our perspective, phones and the internet do provide real community. It isn’t as good as face to face time with family, but talking on the phone, keeping up with blog posts and pictures, online discussion groups, skype…all these things give us the opportunity to maintain relationship with people that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to contact at all. Sure it can’t replace “real” community, but in a sense it is very real itself.
I do think that there are folks who’ve allowed themselves to be trapped online…with less and less contact with actual flesh-and-bone people. I think there’s a real chance, as Chris and Steve both pointed out, that we can become isolated even in our efforts to connect to lots of people (I’ve felt a similar loneliness and isolation sitting in the middle of a mall, with real people all around me but real interactions just out of reach).
However keeping perspective in mind and making an intentional effort to maintain proper balance or tension the digital world can be a source of encouragement, education and great good. The question, as Strong Bad would put it is, “Will you use your powers for good or for awesome?”