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.