Friday, February 27, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 10

You've all been in the room with that guy. He's your friend who keeps sending text messages while you're having a conversation. His eyes volley between your dull face and the brilliant LCD screen. I can understand the allure of the text message: It is the digital reenactment of passing notes in ninth grade. What I don't understand is why a reply cannot wait.

When I worked at a high school in Denver, texting was pandemic. These were kids who struggled with literacy, but had the nimblest thumbs I'd ever seen. During one classroom session on choices, I asked them to explain the rational behind sending a text. The reasons were enlightening:
  • to finish a conversation started between classes
  • to get the latest gossip
  • to schedule lunch plans
  • to distract from a boring class
  • to get answers on a test
All the answers could be summarized in this thought: to be somewhere else.

The topic in Chapter 10, "Together Apart," peers beneath communication technologies. Opening the chapter by analyzing two commercials from cell phone providers (AT&T, Nextel), Hipps identifies the connectivity and fragmentation resulting from our cellular devices.

Few would argue with the connection phones provide. My greatest time of catching up with old friends is long drives with my Bluetooth looped around my ear. And Verizon makes it clear that you don't buy a service but join the IN network.

But I've also experienced the opposite. Bad signals and poor timing have led to numerous tense conversations with my wife. And you never feel more lonely (and stupid) when you realize your heartfelt comment was cut off halfway through due to dead zones.

Simply put, there is a loss of presence with the abundance of digital media (see "I am Here" article in Wired Magazine 17.02) We've all drooled at the iPhone commercial that show an ordinary finger unlocking a world of music, topography, news, and streaming video. But even the simplest cell phone can ring during a conversation, and leave the flesh-and-blood person digging meat chunks out of her molars with her tongue while she waits. I appreciate Hipps advice: "Prioritizing those who are physically present can have a transforming effect on us when so many are digitally absent" (pg. 108).

Presence is important to me as a Christian. I recently preached about the Here & Now life required of the church. Moses' response to God at the burning bush was "Here I am." A few sentences later, God said, "Now go" (Exodus 3:1-10). The more distracted, fragmented, sidetracked, multi-tasked, and stretched abroad we become, the thinner our relationships will become, as a result.

In our electric age we will no longer wrestle to locate people, but walking with them is a different story. The 'electronic experience' has generated what Hipps has coined 'Empathy at a distance' (pg. 108). Televised horrors and broadcast brutality have exposed the average American to our globe's restless suffering. What this has spawned is 'numbness and exhaustion,' Hipps states. He warns, "Over time, if unchecked, this numbness undermines our ability to extend compassion to those in our own city, neighborhood, or even our own homes" (pg. 109).

I tend to agree. So the next time someone takes a phone call while I'm at lunch with them, I might punch them in the face. These days a pinch is too subtle. And for the next phone I hear ringing in church, its owner gets the privilege of preaching.

Integrity Check (these words included)
Hipps: 50
Total: 590
Percentage: 8.5%

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