Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reboot -- Review

REBOOT: Refreshing Your Faith in a High-Tech World.  By Peggy Kendall.  Foreword by Robert Parham.  Valley Forge, PA:  Judson Press, 2010.  xvi + 123 pp.

    We live in a world that is increasingly impacted by technology.  The speed at which life is lived seemingly increases exponentially every day.  As Peggy Kendall, author of Reboot puts it: “As we become hyperconnected, overstimulated, multitasked, hyperinformed, hectically scheduled, and manically entertained, we wonder why feel so tired at night” (p. 3).  I do believe most of us can identify with that statement.  Even as life in general becomes more complex and fast paced, those of us who have walked through life for a few decades wonder about the decreasing attention span of young people.  Many of us who preach for a living wonder whether we are an endangered species – ready to be replaced by multimedia shows.  And yet, even I, a middle-aged man, who didn’t purchase a computer until beginning a Ph.D. program in my late 20s (and that computer was rather primitive by today’s standards), find it difficult to live for even a few hours without checking email or Facebook.  Yes, we have become dependent on technology that only a few decades back was the stuff of dreams.  The innocence of Beaver Cleaver or Opie Taylor is a thing of the past – at least for most of us.

    As people of faith, at that is the intended audience for this book, the question is – how do we live with this technology without it controlling our lives?  Peggy Kendall, a self-described middle-aged communication professor at a Christian college, writes in the hope that this book will help Christians look at “how our unexamined choices regarding technology may unintentionally be altering our fundamental operating system” (p. 7).  The areas that may be affected include our values, our relationships, and the way we view “our Creator.”  The author writes as one who embraces technology, including the ways in which it makes life more productive and efficient, but she recognizes that there is a dark side present that needs to be addressed.  Her hope is that we will find balance in our use of technology and that we might use it well – keeping in mind all the time our relationships with those closest to us and most importantly with God.  That is, it is an invitation to become an intentional consumer of technology.

    The essence of the book is summarized in a sentence from the book’s closing paragraph, where she suggests that Neil Postman was correct:  “For everything technology gives us, it takes away” (p. 120).  Using technology well requires us to understand this reality.  The TV, the computer, social networking sites, none of these are inherently bad, but they can dominate our lives.  They can make us more aware of the world we live in, while at the same time overwhelming us with news we can’t process.  Facebook can create and rebuild friendships that cross the oceans, and yet it can also crowd out opportunities to build face-to-face relationships.  Cell phones are great.  I can check in at home quickly and easily when traveling; I can call home from the grocery store and find out if we need some milk or soup.  But, I can also get so caught up in a cell phone call that I neglect to attend to those around me.  Keeping all of this in perspective is essential. 

    Divided into three parts, the author lifts up the impact of technology on our values, our relationships, and on our faith.  In the first section, concerning values, the author looks at the question of virtual reality – how virtual worlds color the way we see the real world.  From there she moves on to the question of speed – that is the degree to which trying to multitask, so as to be efficient and productive,  may keep us from embracing values such as “patience, attentiveness, thoughtfulness and quality workmanship” (p. 36).  Not only do we deal with virtual realities and multitasking speed, but the issue of sound.  Silence and solitude are becoming increasingly rare – so how do we master this issue? 

    From values, we turn to identity formation and relationships.  Here again, those of us who use Facebook and other social networking sites know the benefit of keeping in contact with family and friends, as well as reconnecting with old friends.  The question for people of faith is how these technologies enhance our sense of identity and help build true community.  As to identity, the author notes that technology has made it possible for us to have multiple identities, and making it possible for us to be involved in more communities (with different identities), while “having less and less to do with each other” (p. 75).  When it comes to relationships, technology can lead to what she refers to as “helicopter” relationships.  By watching Facebook and Twitter we develop a sense of who another person is, dropping in occasionally from above, taking a look and moving on.  So, the question is, how do we take these relationships deeper.  One can have 200 or more Facebook friends, but how deep are these friendships?  The tricky question that we face as we move into such virtual realities, concerns the realities of daily life – who will be there when the chips are down? 

    Finally, Kendall comes to the issue of faith, and the effect that technology has on it. She entitles the chapter dealing with this issue “Optical Myopathy.”  She writes that “one of the most challenging aspects of a high-tech life is how our understanding of God moves from being unbounded and unimaginable to being sorted, definable, preprocessed, convenient, and controllable” (p. 109).   As we look at the impact of technology on our faith, the question will continue to be the way in which it could lead to minimizing our view of God.  That is, to what degree does the medium become the message.  Or, to put it differently, do we confuse spectacle with spiritual reality.  It’s important to note here that the author is a member of a mega-church that provides just such a technologically driven experience.  She enjoys it, and yet recognizes the dangers. 

    The title of the book puts things in perspective – when technology takes control and things begin to run a bit off kilter, then perhaps its time to reboot and start again!

    Peggy Kendall has written a brief, readable, and useful handbook for intentionally and critically engaging technology from a Christian perspective.  She neither bashes it nor does she see it as the cure for all that ails us.  She doesn’t want to return to the “innocence” of Beaver and Opie, but she also recognizes that in making this transition some things of value may have been lost.    This a very practical book, so even if the theological perspective that undergirds the book is  generic evangelicalism, the theology doesn’t drive the book.  That’s not to say that the author doesn’t have theological concerns, it’s just that her biggest concerns are with community and with developing a deeper faith, both of which can be crowded out by our obsession with technology.   


1 comment:

tripp fuller said...

thanks for blogging on the book. i hadn't heard of it. looking forward to talking about all of this in person.

i heart the cornwall.