The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 15, 2013

Craig Tally: Tech can distract us from God

By Craig Tally
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other," by Sherry Turkle, is a significant book examining the impact of the Internet on human relationships.

The author is pro-technology and truly appreciates its advantages. She reminds us that this technology is in its infancy and we are learning how to handle it. Only five years ago this past week did Steve Jobs introduce Apple's App Store!

The title of the book also names a growing problem resulting from mismanagement of the technology.

We know that human beings are communal. We need quality relationships in order to grow and be healthy. Relationships need time and attention, undivided attention.

Our constant connectedness brings into sharp focus the problem of being alone together. The more we are connected to tech, the more our attention is divided, even when being with a spouse, a friend, a son or a daughter. I was attending an opera (when one is married to one whose masters degree is vocal performance, one learns to attend operas). As the lights shone announcing the intermission, smart phones immediately lit up all-around me. There were Facebook statuses, email, tweets and text messages to check. Alone together!

The blame is not to be placed upon the technology. In and of themselves, the Internet, computers and smart phones are socially neutral.

Depending upon how they are used, they may enhance or inhibit important relationships. We have always had difficulty giving undivided attention: Dad reading the paper at the breakfast table, little Johnny drawing out the game of battleship to be secretly played later that day in school.

Our new technology makes undivided attention less easy and divided attention more tempting than ever before. Reach for the phone, push a button or two, and all this good stuff just pops right up, and away we go.

Does this concept of "alone together" come into play when we think about relating with God? It certainly does.

Two Biblical accounts come to mind. In I Kings 19, Elijah is fraught with fear and hiding in a cave. He needs a word from God. He listens within the mighty wind, the terrible earthquake and the burning forest fire, but only hears God in "the sound of sheer silence."

In the 46th Psalm we read "the nations rage and kingdoms totter." In both accounts, there is loud noise and much activity, constant movement.

In both accounts, there is also the sound of silence and quietness. And God comes only in those times.

In Elijahs story, we overhear the meaning of the story as we read. In the Psalm, the Psalmist looks us in the eye and straight-forwardly says, "Be still, and know."

Then and now, life is busy and noisy. Sometimes, it roars. We want a word from God, but to hear, we must withdraw from all distraction. God does not shout over the noise of our lives, but communes with us amidst the sound of silence and quietness.

Just as important as it is to put the phone down, to not pick it up, to spend time with a loved one in undivided attention, so is it with us and God. In the story of the beginnings, God comes calling for the couple in the cool of the evening, when life is hushed. By seeking quiet and stillness, we recreate the cool evening atmosphere. Then we listen for God.

Jesus is our example. He often withdrew from the crowd and its noise in order to be quiet and reflective. You might say he disconnected and gave the Father His undivided attention.