January… the month of cold and darkness after the big celebration of Christmas. It is maybe what defines us as Minnesotans. It slows us down enough to allow for reflection. It might be what makes us actually Minnesota nice. I have been reading the book, “Thank You for Being
Late” by Thomas Friedman. The title of this book is realized when the author, Tom, has a meeting with someone and they are ten minutes late. This allows Tom ten minutes of “free time”, when he realizes this ten minutes of free time is almost disorienting because of its rarity. In this mere ten minutes he feels his head clear and his feet on the ground again. Consequently, he thanks the person he is meeting for being late and goes on to wonder when exactly we became this busy.
Communication technology had been developing long before 2007 but it changed in an explosive way in speed, ability, mobility, etc. that year. The author talks about how fast humans can process this much change. Typically one thing changes, i.e. the invention of cars, and it takes us fifteen years to get completely used to this change as a culture. But with the advent of our current technology there are changes almost daily in small ways and bigger changes several times a year. For example, when my phone or ipad has an update, I obediently agree to the update, only to realize the next time I sign in to use an application or function of the device that the rules have changed, it looks different and suddenly something I could do easily and reliably I now have to figure out again. As a 54 year old, this is never an intuitive change either! The author gives great examples of changes in all sorts of technology, including the use of sensors put on each female cow in the pasture to tell when the individual cow is at her peak fertility. All this information goes in live time to the farmer’s cell phone so he or she can quickly move this female cow into another pasture. Or the technology that can be put on pipes in a large facilities’ heating and cooling system to tell the employee on duty that trouble is brewing and to call for help, so repair can begin before things actually shut down or cause an accident.
This all makes me wonder about so many things…like is this rapid change the precursor to the increase in anxiety among all people, especially our middle school to 30 year olds who have never known a life without devices? When things in your life that you depend on greatly each day are changing at such a rapid rate when can you really rest? Where are the moments (or longer) of comfort and security? If you feel every day you have to keep up even on your devices, say nothing of all the areas of your life that involve people, management, creativity, etc. wouldn’t you be anxious too? In the not-so-old days, the farmer, while less exacting, used his or her own senses and signals to know where the cows were at in their ability to conceive. Or the engineer working the heating and cooling area knew the equipment’s sounds and workings to sense (again in a less exacting way) when trouble was brewing. In both cases these skills and senses were acquired after years of developing this level of familiarity and expertise. It separated the older employee from the younger. It encouraged longevity in the work place as a way to develop these skills that now, with the use of sensors, can be obtained as a new employee. This also lessens the need for mentoring relationships at work and in other settings because the skill is now driven by the sensor and app, and not by a person’s knowledge, long developed sensory skills and the relational transfer of those skills. The impacts to our society go on and on.
Like many I have always thought the way cellular technology has changed how we communicate would change us culturally. Some of those changes are good, some might not be. When the only or main source of community you experience is on Snapchat or other technical communication platform suddenly you are not experiencing looking into the eyes of the person you are “talking” to or sensing their physical presence through body language, a hug or even a hand shake. Emotions come down to emojis, instead of learning to meter our emotional response, interpret those of others and experience the sense of emotional release.
The author makes me realize these somewhat obvious impacts of technology on communication and culture are just the tip of the iceberg. The addition of the unsettling rapidness of change, loss of a frequent, developed and needed sensory perception as well as communication that allows a time of physically being in the same room. Community does not include a casserole any longer, it is much less physical, with little face to face contact. So the anxiety produced by the rapid change is not cared for in places with meaningful discussion and care. Now add in the current political climate where many are polarized by politics and not talking to one another. Every conversation starts with a fight or flight feeling inside because of the compassion of each person and the feeling of distance between one another. The commonness of terrorism, irrational and unpredictable leaders add to the unrest and lack of calm.
What does God call us to do in all this? How do we help others survive a world we have been navigating longer than they have, knowing their challenges are different than ours were? We keep being a community. We welcome ALL others into our community. We invite others into community and we care for them where they are. We keep talking about the hard stuff and the things we are wondering about. We don’t remain quiet when action is needed. We find ways to care, i.e. share the gospel of hope (i.e. Romans 8:38-39), listen, love, donate time and money to resources that help (i.e. Mental Health Connect, Blake Road Corridor, Move Forward, food shelves, etc.) those who struggle with the challenges of the day.