Friday, July 26, 2013

The Economics of Presence

Another year, another move. (I'm hoping I can go for more than a year without moving this time) I've moved from a studio apartment on the north side of downtown Minneapolis to a two-bedroom apartment on the southeast side, just two blocks from my church. So far I'm absolutely loving the location, the reduced rent, and having a roommate again. But possibly my favorite part has been the change of my internet-going habits the move brought about. When I moved into my previous apartment, I was able to set up my internet connectivity over the phone in about a day. This time, I had to schedule an appointment and spent a week without internet access leading up to it. (The technician who did the installation wasn't sure why I couldn't do it over the phone) My roommate could still get online on his smartphone, but since I don't have one I could only go online at work.

What surprised me is that this week without the internet was actually extremely enjoyable--so much so that my computer habits seem to have drastically changed. At my old apartment I would essentially have my computer in easy reach all the time because of the personal connection the internet seemed to promise. I was present halfway in whatever I was doing, and halfway in Facebook, and therefore not completely present in either. I felt, to borrow an analogy, like butter scraped over too much toast. Anxious for interaction with my solitary job and home, I found that the more I relied on social media, the more lonely I ended up feeling. This article in The Atlantic says, "In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are...transfixed by the glare of a screen, hungering for response." It sounds uncomfortably like how I used to spend many an unproductive evening.

With that habit broken by the scheduling of a cable company, I'm now able to be more fully present and attentive in whatever I'm doing, and strangely even though I don't multitask nearly as much, I feel like I have more time than I did before. (Or that time is higher-quality) I'm more concerned with what I am doing than on what I wish I could be doing. Having a roommate so my social interaction at home isn't all either online or planned out a week in advance also helps, but more than that it's just being able to focus, wonderfully and completely, on one thing in the here-and-now (instead of there-and-then) at a time.

Could we, as a society, be addicted to multitasking, to the art of technologically diffusing ourselves so as to be present everywhere and nowhere? I don't have a smartphone partly for this reason, but I don't imagine they help much. It makes me think of one of the names Jesus is given, "Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), which means "God with us". This declaration has much less punch in our "Jesus is my homeboy" culture than it must have for Isaiah's audience, much less the people who actually met Jesus. The unimaginably holy God who guided Israel out of Egypt and ruled over them, who they only approached (but not too close!) to make offerings while acutely aware of their own unholiness, was now coming to be with them. I, for one, am glad Jesus was always fully present and didn't interrupt His ministry or time with people every five minutes to check His Facebook, send a tweet, or carry on five text message conversations. (I'm also not sure He'd have the latest and greatest iPhone/Android/whatever, but that's a topic for another post)

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