Thursday, May 11, 2017

Resisting Culture, Resisting Smartphones

Yesterday, I started the day by listening to this episode of On Point which explored The Benedict Option, a book which calls for modern Christians to resist elements of modern life, like consumerist culture.  I ended the day by having a conversation about how available the modern workplace expects us to be.

One friend said that it's part of being management that one must be available each and every day, 24 hours a day.  Another friend said that every job expects that availability now.  I said, "But why must it be this way?  We're not managing emergency medicine here.  These aren't life or death issues." 

When I was young, I thought that one of the most countercultural ways to behave revolved around who we loved and who we lived with.  The world seemed set up for husband-wife pairs and their children.  I still think that if one wants to live in a multi-adult household where the adults are joined by simple friendship, not blood relations or sex, that it's fairly countercultural.

One of the most radical countercultural things I do these day is my refusal to get a smartphone and my refusal to be tethered to my cell phone--or any phone.  I don't want a smartphone for many reasons:  the cost, the way the phone monopolizes everyone's time, the way that everyone becomes a slave to their smartphone.

In this episode of On Being, Marie Howe says that the robot revolution has happened, and the robots are our phones--not what we were expecting, certainly, but a robot takeover nonetheless:  "And one of my teachers at Columbia was Joseph Brodsky, who’s a Russian poet, wonderful, amazing poet, who was exiled from the Soviet Union for being a poet. And he said look, he said, 'You Americans, you are so na├»ve. You think evil is going to come into your houses wearing big black boots. It doesn’t come like that. Look at the language. It begins in the language.' And I was thinking the machines — what face do you look into more than any other face in your life? The face of my iPhone."

I understand all the reasons why a smartphone can be good.  If I had family members going in multiple directions, I might want us all connected in that way.  But I don't.  I do spend a lot of my day staring at a computer screen.  I don't want my remaining free time controlled by an even smaller screen.

Eventually I'll read The Benedict Option, in an old-fashioned format.  I'll be interested to see if it has anything to say about this ubiquitous piece of technology.  It seems much more invasive than the television is these days.  If we're resisting modern, consumerist culture, the smartphone might be the place to start (and yes, I know I've already lost this battle).

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