Be where your butt is

Bible appIn this increasingly wired world, some have taken to dividing humanity into two camps: digital natives and digital immigrants. Today’s children are born into a world already saturated by microchip technology and Internet connectivity; they are the natives. I, on the other hand, am an ambivalent immigrant.

Years ago, for example, I was nearly the last person in my building to adopt email, leaving notes on people’s doors instead (which a colleague dubbed “d-mail”). But now, I depend on email and am a dedicated blogger. I only just purchased a smart phone in the last month because my dinosaur of a phone broke down. But I hardly use it, and while I have enjoyed the camera, I have yet to send a text message. (Ever.) I own thousands of books and a tablet with a Kindle app, and can appreciate the virtues of each way of reading.

Some find the notion of being a digital “immigrant” insulting. Certainly there are members of my generation who are full-fledged converts to the new reality. But the term suits me well, at least. I am still adapting to the culture.

I still flinch internally, for example, when I see someone take out a smart phone during a worship service. Yes, I know — they may be looking at their Bible app. And yes, I have such an app on my tablet, and sometimes use it in church. But here’s the question: if you were using the app during a sermon and suddenly received a text or Facebook update, would you look?

I agree with what Christian psychologist (and longtime colleague) Archibald Hart and his daughter Sylvia Frejd have suggested in their recent book, The Digital Invasion. The new technology has made us more connected electronically and less connected in person. Facebook friendships, for example, are not the same as face-to-face friendships (though FB can be a convenient way to keep up a relationship that’s already been established). The lure of Internet connectivity is difficult to ignore, and many of us actually put more time and energy into our virtual relationships than our flesh-and-blood ones (I’ll say more about that and the myth of multitasking in future posts).

Surely you’ve seen it: the family in the restaurant, sitting wordlessly, each engrossed in his or her own digital device — the adults on their phones, the little ones playing a game or watching a video on an iPad. The point is not to vilify such behavior, but to ask, “Is this the extent of togetherness in the family? In what other ways are they building and tending the family relationship? Do they even recognize how their digital devices may be pulling them away from each other?”

Bucking the trend, Hart and Frejd propose this amusing and memorable principle: Be where your butt is. Instead of being off somewhere in cyberspace, practice being present to the people who are in the room with you. Have a conversation; be curious, ask questions, and listen. Pay attention.

And that applies to worship as well. There’s nothing wrong with using a Bible app in church (the old fossils like me will just have to get used to it). But resist the temptation of your digital devices luring your attention away from God.

Otherwise you might just miss something that you really needed to hear, something more important than what a member of your network had for breakfast.

5 thoughts on “Be where your butt is

  1. This hits home for me for I am a fellow digital immigrant though I was brought over on the good ship “Analog” during my 35 years in the telecommunications business. Because I was in the business, email came fast, company cell phones (my first one wouldn’t quite fit in a shoe box) and instant messaging intruded on my preference for the human voice for long distance communications and face-to-face discussions for all the nuances of body language. A lot gets lost when we digitize things.

    For the longest time I refused to read blogs until a young lady from our youth group wrote one. When I commented on it she said that I should write one if I was going to be a writer. Now I write two, if sporadically. I admire your consistency. I will not tweet and neither will the principle character in my book. 140 characters indeed. I suppose that my attempt to be malleable on the Potter’s Wheel someone will nudge me in that direction and I will eventually capitulate.

    I share your concern about being where our butts are. I’ve seen the migration over the life of my 20+ years doing a short term youth mission to the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona. After the first couple of years I was allowed to bring along my shoe box phone and could find the right spot out in the desert at two certain times of the day to make calls and check in with parents and the church. Coverage is now ubiquitous and every kid on the trip has a minimum of one device (ostensibly to have recorded Christian music for meditation times) while our adult who puts the video and photo record together has a first draft video done by the last night of the trip and keeps FB updated throughout. I cringe because my own smartphone has a lot of good reference apps on it, dictionaries (Urban and Webster’s), Wikipedia, IMDB…all right next to a couple of crucial time wasters. I’ve gotten better at leaving the phone in my pocket and being where I am but it is no easy task for someone with an addictive personality.

    Being an immigrant is not a bad thing and does not limit our ability to master the domain for ourselves and flourish in the way we use it. Immigrants in the world have shown that over each generation. It is a matter of finding our own space in the new realm, mastering the ways of the realm, and humbly pursuing the use of our gifts – just like finding our place in God’s story and playing the part He’s written for us to our best and repenting when we miss our marks.

    Thank you for “The Digital Invasion” recommendation. I plan on reading it as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. And, thank you for the inspired post as many of yours are. As evidenced by my lengthy reply, this one seems to have hit home. It feels like I could write all day on the topic and I haven’t felt that way about my writing for some time. Thanks again. Peace.

    1. Thanks, Jerry. It would be interesting to get a whole congregational discussion going — an honest one! — about our use of digital devices and media. It’s a blessing and a curse. And maybe it would be good for you to write all day on the topic! I’m sure you have much, much more to say…

  2. Yes, I agree. A good honest discussion, if for no other reason to have each of us think about it, would be healthy. And, thinking about how we structure the discussion of the Gospel in our media, how we might or might not be shading it to be more palatable for the general public in order to help draw them in. That last comment might be more directed to a church’s consideration of a name change so that the “Presbyterian” over the door won’t keep folks from coming in…

    More related to being where our butts are, one the men I ride motorcycles with who is becoming more of a friend as time rolls by once said during a Saturday ride when he was considering making a Sunday ride, “I’d rather be riding and thinking about God than sitting in church thinking about riding.” I suppose, as with nearly anything else, that one could carry either side of that to extremes.

      1. Ouch. I hadn’t looked at it like that. The answer to your question should be printed on the Golden Ticket. I believe if we knew that then we’d stop wasting time looking for cosmetic ways to get folks into church and would then have to turn to the problem of finding enough seats for all of them.

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