Today marks three weeks of my Lenten fast from 24/7 connectivity. It has been really worthwhile, and one book (and author) I'm excited to introduce to readers is The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World by Christina Crook. "Through historical data, typewritten letters, chapter challenges and personal accounts, The Joy of Missing Out, leads us on a unique exploration of the modern world, revealing how presentness, intentionality and limited connections are the keys to our joy." I recently had the chance to ask Christina some questions about her book and her intentional digital connections:
1. Your book, which is meant for a broad audience, doesn’t explicitly explore the impact of technology on the life of faith. But as a Christian, how do you interpret that relationship?
God’s impassioned call for our lives is to love. To be real. In fact, the ancient Greeks called God the really real. I believe, as Christians, that’s what we are called to in our on and off-line pursuits. And the Internet can help us to love, it can give us opportunities to be candid, to confess, it can help us in our work, bridge relationships, give us chances to minister to others. But it can also become a crutch, a compulsion, an escape route.
With our ever-increasing use of online technology, the idea of community is shifting profoundly - whether it be family, friends or relationship within a local church. The middle man - the mediation through the computer - allows us, for the most part, to remain at arms length. But there is a simple way to counter it. Whenever you have an opportunity to see people in person - a dinner, coffee date, street party - GO. While the Internet has enabled the recluse - the elderly, the sick, the disabled - to connect to the church online, it has created a hurdle for the rest of us.
In the scriptures, God implores his people to have no other gods before Him - no addictions separating us from Him and our ministry of love to others. We must ask ourselves if our technologies are helping or hindering that.
2. I love the idea in your book that we should more closely examine the burdens we ask technology to eliminate from our lives, burdens that “we should not want to be rid of.” Can you give an example or two from your own life, where you've chosen to keep a burden rather than off-loading it via technology?
I try to connect with my neighbours face-to-face. So, for example, the other evening, instead of texting my next door neighbor to ask a question, I bundled my two elder kids up and scurried across the front lawn in -15°C winds. Instead of firing a couple of short texts back and forth (which seemed like better judgment once we were outside, freezing) my neighbor and I stood on the front porch talking about the challenges of parenthood. And then I saw it: the crack in her demeanor, tears at the ready. My neighbor was needy, and my physical presence let it come out.
Our screen-based technologies enable us to connect with people anywhere on the Globe in realtime, and they are glossy and exciting and they are drawing our attention away from our local communities. We have only so much time and attention. I have taken up the good burden of walking whenever possible, moving more slowly to and from the schoolyard, the cafe, the grocery store, paying attention to who is along our path.
3. In the book, you ask readers to intentionally disconnect from technology as a means to “reclaim sacred spaces” and “honor the holy hours.” Where are these spaces and when are these hours for you?
I used to have a practice, before the smartphone, where I wouldn't let myself read the newspaper until I had sat with Scripture. It was the lens I wanted to see the world through, the space I needed to linger before entering the day. This is something that slipped away with my iPhone and which I have reclaimed. I try begin most days with some reading. Right now it is: "Finding God with your Children." Oftentimes, I have a child up with me first thing, so the reading is sidelined or delayed. We begin the day together, in conversation, cuddled close or setting our hands to work making breakfast. Purposely delaying my connection to the wider world, valuing the thoughts and presence of my family first, is a sacred place for me.
4. Tell us about your internet use these days: how often do you go online? When? Why? Are you connecting on your laptop, your smartphone? What practices keep you grounded?
The great irony for me is that I am on email way more than I want to right now, simply due to the release of my book and a crazy schedule. So it's not a normal snapshot, it's a season. But my normal practice, and something I continue even now, is keeping social media off of my phone. The more addicting apps and sites should be kept at bay if you want to reclaim space and time. Using the Internet as a tool is key. I write list of the things I need to get done online, get to work and get off as fast as possible.
5. If your book sounds a call to intentional media use, you never pretend to have it all figured out. I love when you admit, “We are all figuring this out, one blunder, one shining moment, one binge watch at a time.” Can we have any recent confessions from you in terms of your technology use?
Last Friday was National Day of Unplugging and I was promoting it as much as could on social media. When the sun went down and the fast was supposed to start, I found myself ho- and humming about it, making excuses for why I didn't need to participate or should start after watching one show online. And then I had the "wake up!" moment: "Hello! You are a slave to this thing called the iPhone again! This isn't optional. You NEED this." And so I shut off the screens with my family for a day and it was so life-giving. We made snow forts in the backyard, cooked, played, read. I needed that reminder again.