19 June 2017

Life in an age of information overload

I got a letter the other day announcing the NBN has come to my street and for a fleeting moment I felt like I'd won the lottery (or at least a meat raffle). Even though I'm definitely a social media introvert, the internet has clearly reshaped my life and I suspect yours too. For example, did you grow up with a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica? We had a set proudly displayed on bowing bookshelves groaning under the  the weight of all that glossy paper. Sadly, Encyclopaedia Britannica stopped publishing in 2012 after 244 years! It wasn't that people stopped wanting information, but now we want it all, anywhere and immediately.

The Internet is arguably the most significant social and technological innovation of our time. It is equivalent to the invention of the Gutenberg press of the 15century (apparently the Chinese invented it 200 years earlier), and the Roman road of the first century.

But here is my concern. In a recent Australian study by the RUOK foundation it was found that Australians spent an average of 46 hours a week in their downtime (i.e. not at work) looking at a screen, but just six hours with family and friends. Half of respondents spent two hours or less, which equates to eight times as many hours per week looking at screens and plugged into the net than with loved ones.

Is it just me or do you see a problem here too? Screens join us on the toilet (ok that was a confession), and for some, walking the dog, riding the train, at our kid’s sport or even around the dinner table. It's like we've become a nation of tech zombies, fascinated with our little screens, convinced we are somehow more connected, informed and better off.  Are we really?

And do I also need a high tech watch  to broadcast even more trivial information which further distracts me from my 'Face time' with those I love? Do we really want to give more attention to our screens than our loved ones? And what are we modelling for our children?

I'm writing this partly because this is me! And yes, I do see the irony in writing this admonition on one of those screens, knowing you will read it on one of those screens.

But every so often we all need to step back, look at or behaviours and gain a fresh perspective on how we use our time and our technology, especially when around people...which is just about everywhere. 

You may recall last year, one of Elon Musk's rockets blew up on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral.    No one was hurt but it did destroy a satellite commissioned by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to connect millions of sub-Saharan Africans to the Internet. After all, they need Facebook too! I'm all for Africa having the Internet. But if they end up spending 46 hours a week on Facebook, downloading the ills of western culture and other useless information, I fear that for many, the great blessing of a Mark Zuckerberg satellite hovering over their heads could become a slow, irreversible social and cultural tragedy. 

What do you think?
Maybe its time to close the lid, turn off the phone and go find someone to talk to?

Here is how I'm praying about this. Maybe you'd like to join me:

Jesus, thank you that I'm alive today in the 21st Century! You've placed before me a world of immense opportunity and resources that can be used for great good. Amid all the distractions, help me to keep my focus on you. And give me the heart to make an even greater investment of my attention and time into the people you ask me to walk with.