Yesterday’s classic Calvin and Hobbes also reminded me of something Andy Crouch recently said about technology and the attention our screens demand from us (connected to Calvin and his appliances). From “Small Screens, Big World”:
Our screens, increasingly, pay a great deal of attention to us. They assure us that someone, or at least something, cares. The mediated world constantly falls over itself to tell us, often in entirely automated ways, that we matter every bit as much as we secretly hope we do. They tell us we are liked, retweeted, favorited—that we are significant, useful, and urgently needed. Every generation of devices gets better at this, becomes less a persnickety, recalcitrant technician (does anyone remember the exacting syntax of command-line interfaces?) and more and more an utterly dedicated, ingratiating concierge for our preferred future.
The unmediated world does not flatter us in this way. Stand on a deserted seashore and the creation pays you no evident attention, except perhaps for a few creatures that alter their paths to keep a safe distance. Even our fellow human beings rarely flatter us with the attention we think we deserve. Walk down a street in Hong Kong or Phnom Penh or London or Rome, and unless you are young and beautiful, or possibly rich, no one will pay you the slightest heed. And youth and beauty, even wealth, are fleeting things. I never was beautiful, but I have had some success, enough to know that even at the heights of attention, when the whole room is looking at you, smiling at you, standing and applauding you, the overwhelming experience of life as a human being is smallness and disregard. There is a hunger for attention that all the selfies in the world will never fill, a hunger that only grows as our mediated world breathlessly offers more and more ways to call attention to ourselves.
So the real gift of my absence from screens was that nothing was paying attention to me. Of course my wife and children and friends did, graciously, continue to attend to me (along with gracious hosts in the countries I visited over the past few weeks). But not in the relentless, addictive way that devices do. And in the absence of that constant digital flattery, feeling much smaller and less significant, I was more free to pay attention to the world I am called to love.
The whole essay, which talks about Crouch’s digital sabbatical over Lent, is a great read. You can read all of it here.
There really is so much great thinking going on these days, especially by thoughtful Christians trying to make sense of the world around them as it changes at such a great pace. This is just one quality example of that.