Here’s a confession that’s likely to disqualify me, in the eyes of some, from having anything relevant to say to anyone ever again: I have never sent a text message.  (OMG.  YGTBKM.)  I’ve received them, like the regular missives from the auto repair shop: “Your car is very happy here.”  (I don’t speak car myself, so I have to take their word for it.)  But I’ve never sent a text message back.  

I don’t even know how.

Not that I’m a Luddite or technophobe.  I just need to be convinced there’s a good reason to adopt a new technology.  It’s seductive to think that some new gadget will allow me to do things I couldn’t do before.  But technology often brings unintended consequences; it doesn’t just make life more efficient, it makes it different.

A classic Far Side cartoon shows a family sitting in their living room, staring at a blank wall.  The caption reads, “In the days before television.”  The point?  It’s not as if families used to sit around staring at walls, and then television just made the ritual more interesting.  The technology transformed how families spend their time together.  For the better?  For worse?  Both?  Decide for yourself.

Historians have documented similar changes.  Before central air conditioning, many families sat out on their front porches on hot evenings, conversing with neighbors who were out for a stroll.  After central air, families tended to stay indoors, reducing face time with those same neighbors.  Before microwave ovens, families were more likely to engage in food preparation and dinnertime rituals that gave them a sense of shared identity.  But microwaveable food tends to make meals a more solitary affair.

I didn’t grow up with either air conditioning (we didn’t need it) or microwave ovens (they didn’t exist).  But make no mistake: now that I enjoy both, I’d be hard pressed to give them up.  Don’t hear me, therefore, as condemning technological change.  Rather, I’m asking the Trojan Horse question: when we welcome some new advance into our lives, what else sneaks in with it?

So: text messaging.  Is it just a newer way to have the conversations we were already having?  For established relationships, yes, and some parents would say it’s about the only way to get their kids to talk to them.  But has it also changed existing social rituals and expectations?  Yes, that too.  People are still making up the rules for dividing the world into Facebook friends, friends we text, and friends we call.  And then there’s the matter of how and when you respond to text messages when you’re actually with other people.  I confess that I still don’t understand how people can be in a room together, all “conversing” with someone who isn’t there, instead of with each other.

Oh, well.  At some point, maybe, I’ll get with the program.  Meanwhile, I’d like to make a request: can we please take “OMG” out of the texting lexicon?

Again, it’s a matter of the unintended consequences of change.  Given the nature of the technology and its use, it seems perfectly natural that texting would reduce common phrases to abbreviations; it helps create a semblance of spontaneous conversation where speed and brevity are of the essence.  But does shortening the exclamation, “Oh, my God!” to just three letters have the consequence of making us even less aware of what we’re saying?

Does anybody care?

Maybe that makes me sound like a religious fruitcake (and I know how most people feel about fruitcake).  For the record, I’m not suggesting that God will send texters to hell for violating the third commandment.  But I am concerned that our shifting social conventions may make us even more careless with our language, even when speaking of the holy.

Or how about an even more radical proposal?  Let’s leave “OMG” in the lexicon, but mean it when we use it, much as Thomas did when he was finally convinced that the crucified Jesus was risen and real: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

When we type or see those three letters, let them remind us of the God we worship–not a God who punishes careless speech, but who wants us to say what we mean and mean what we say, to his glory, and our everlasting wonder.

6 thoughts on “OMG

  1. Thank you, Cameron! You articulated perfectly my feelings about technology and how it affects our relationships/society. I don’t think of myself as a technophobe; maybe ‘techno-shy’ would be an appropriate term. I do text, but briefly. If longer communication is required then I will either call the person or email them, depending upon the degree of urgency.

    I have been feeling cut off from old friends because I do not “do” Facebook and they are too busy to return text-requests or voice mails for a phone or lunch date. When I do see them and they mention some event in their life (of which I am unaware), I am airily dismissed with “oh, it’s on my Facebook.” The same thing with party photos. People cannot be bothered to even email them now that it’s so easy to post them on Facebook.

    I am going to let my 10-year-old daughter read this blog entry. It will help her to understand my feelings about technology and its unintended effects.

    1. I’d be curious to hear how that conversation goes. What I still have difficulty wrapping my mind around is what it’s like to grow up in a world when social networking technology has always been present, to be a person who doesn’t remember a time in which there were no cell phones, no Twitter, no Facebook, and even no Internet. It’s not just trying to understand another person’s habits, ideas, or beliefs, per se, but how their very world is different… Still working on that.

  2. Your post reminded me of a way that technology changed human interactions in my life. When I was a child, my mother used to guide us in harmony and traditional songs while my father was driving the car. Then we got our first eight track player (yes, I’m of that vintage) and started singing along to Broadway musicals. It was fun, but there’s a qualitative difference between “singing along” and making music. Leap over a few decades to a few years ago when my teenage daughter started listening to music on her iPod with ear buds while we were driving. Our family (like much of the broader culture) has moved from actively creating music together to passively consuming it in isolation. Of course the common reaction is to mock amateur music-making, but I believe there’s been quite a loss.

    1. Good illustration. Our technologies make some forms of connection possible or more prevalent, but often at the expense of isolating us from others. This is, of course, nothing new, as the Far Side cartoon suggests… I don’t have to be updating Facebook to isolate myself from you; I can just be staring at the TV set.

  3. I think another negative side effect of technology, especially social media, is how we use it. We use it to update our own activities. Our focus shifts to “let me share what I’m doing.” We become invested in ourselves instead of invested in others. A positive side effect can be receiving devotionals by text or email, downloading a Bible from a Kindle (or other ebook) app. Like a lot of things, it’s how we choose to use it.

    1. Yes. Technology is seldom a problem in itself. Unfortunately, technological development tends to run ahead of our moral development and the ability to anticipate the potentially problematic results of giving people more power to do things they couldn’t do before.

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