Advent is marked by a time of arrival; specifically, the arrival of the savior. At least, that is how advent ends on Christmas day each year. Indeed, we live in a time and place of arrival of a savior- the other proclaimed savior. You will find this savior swaddled in entertainment and information, lying in a manger of convenience. The face of this savior baby is glowing. It sprouts friendly illuminated tendrils, growing quickly, expanding into our homes and even our pockets whispering sweetly to us we shouldn’t have to wait: that waiting is antiquated. This is the savior prophesied not only to save us but to save our time; to save us from waiting and to bring change and peace on earth.
Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, said, “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions.”
Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, said, “[the machine gun] will make war impossible.”
Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio, said the exact same thing: “The coming of radio will make war impossible.”*
All of these once new technologies did not bring peace or make war impossible, they made war more destructive. With hindsight on our side we easily say they are crazy to have thought such things. But they would have thought it crazy to imagine their inventions used for such evil; they couldn’t even have imagined it. If they were naïve, chances are, so are we.
I know it is currently quite popular to trash-talk the effects of technology. Wisdom and age teaches that life is never so simple; there is always grey mixed in with the black and white. Good with the bad. Sorrow mixed in with deep joy. So too technology both brings in new goodness and pushes out present forms of abundant goodness. But let’s not be naïve in our beliefs of technology. We will invent new saviors and, even though we can’t imagine it, many of them will be used for violence, injustice and death.
I always find the time after Christmas to be more bleak than before. Hope seems to dissipate and monotony and dreary weather fill its fading place. All that remains are fuzzy warm memories of happiness growing distant. We are in danger of losing hope. We are in danger of letting our hope slide into something else. At the same time, we posses profound power in our pockets that spark our hearts with hope. Temptation is within reach at all time. We no longer need to sit in moments of boredom or silence. Smart phones give us the ability to opt out. And we do. We opt out of those small moments. We can’t help but justify “just checking this one thing” that comes to us with a Pavlovian ding.
This isn’t bad. But compounded over time it is catastrophic.
I grew up sharing a room with my brother. When he got his driver’s license and would hang out with friends late every night I used to fall asleep listening to the radio. The steady stream of human-produced sound assured me I was not in complete isolation. We, as humans, seem to need to be constantly reminded we are not alone and we often do so by pressing a buttom to have an unending flow of communication to ingest, assuring us we are not alone and not worthless. With new technologies and music apps we can listen to any music we want at any time. Increasingly we, as a society, have been surrounding ourselves with constant sound. This isn’t bad. But compounded over time it is catastrophic.
Radio broadcasters fear a break in communication leading to silence. They call it “dead air.” Dead air. I tend to think of a moment of silence not as dead but as the most alive moment because anything can grow into it; anything can spring forward and fill that moment. Even if we can’t see or hear it, there is something in moments of silence, boredom and struggle; they aren’t worthless. Those times of stillness when there is no movement towards progress or productivity there is something present, waiting, growing inside of us.
We are slowly losing our opportunities to practice waiting and silence. Practice makes perfect. Just like silent pauses that were pregnant with life have now become reduced to “dead air” so have our opportunities for practice begun to die. In fact, without our intentionality, times of silence and waiting face extinction.
We must be intentional with incorporating the practice of waiting and silence into our daily lives. We have to intentionally practice it. We need these opportunities to practice or we begin to forget. The compounding of practice over time is what brings change. A married couple may not feel like going out one specific date night. And that is not bad. But compounded over time it is catastrophic. In order to continue learning more about one another and maintain a relationship, a couple must continually practice certain routines. They must form a liturgy of marriage, unique to who they are.
We shouldn’t move blindly forward into the future without thinking long and hard about the long term consequences of our choices. Therein lies the power of practice: when we slowly practice things, little by little, they compound over a long period of our lives and make a big change. If you lay one seed every week, eventually you will have a forest of trees.
Are your little practices bringing you to trust in something that will save you?
And so, as Christians, when we embrace technologies we must do so without blindly accepting the cultural expectations of what that technology will do for us. History teaches us that we shouldn’t accept the optimistic assumption that our new technologies will only act as a savior for us- our new technologies will certainly bring destruction as well. We are not choosing technology to save us. We are choosing another, different savior. We practice the art of waiting. We practice waiting for this true Savior. We practice waiting for the King to return. We practice waiting through thick and thin, in times of hope and despair.
- What Technology Wants, Kevin Kelly, Pg 192