Thursday, March 5, 2015

Can We Still Look at One Another and Talk?

Most Sundays, I make my way to a local shop and pick up the Sunday edition of The New York Times. Admittedly, the Sunday Times is a paperweight in comparison to most newspapers. This past Sunday's edition was no different, providing a wealth of articles, commentary and other wordy delights that I am still reading bits and pieces of as the week goes on. (And woe befall any puppy in my household who tries to abscond with the Sunday Book Review section. Then again, it was on the floor and ripe for the taking. One chase around the house and the Sunday Book Review is safe, if not Ironic, huh?)

One article in the Arts & Leisure section caught my imagination as well as my eye. A young actress is featured in a brief interview about a TV show she is starring on VH1. (Yes, they are more than a music video channel and have been for some time!) Actress Sarah Goldberg performs as a character in the series "Hindsight" set back in the long ago era of the 1990s.

For some readers, they join me in groaning slightly at the thought of "Gen X" now being the subject of nostalgia. We grew up understanding the Korean War via the insanity (on many levels) of MASH in the 1970s and 1980s. We are the generation for whom "Roots", "The Day After" and other major dramatizations shaped our understandings of world issues and history. We're also the generation dazed and confused by our youngsters looking at us oddly when we tell them we didn't grow up with Elmo on Sesame Street. Instead, we can remember Mr. Hooper and when Snuffy was still thought to be an imaginary friend of Big Bird. (Yes, we're that old now….)

Grumping aside, I return to the interview with young Sarah Goldberg, herself born in the mid-1980s, so just playing along like she knew what coming into young adulthood during the mid-1990s felt like. She was asked by the reporter why she thought the 1990s were having "a cultural resurgence" now. She replied:

I feel like it’s easy to romanticize this time, pre-technology and pre-mobile phones, essentially. People had to really commit. If you made a plan to meet at a bar, there was no texting five minutes before saying, “I’m not showing up.” There’s something — to me, in hindsight — so sort of sexy and free about it [the ’90s], because you had to make a bolder gesture. You had to vote with your feet. You couldn’t just vote with your thumbs.

In the middle of Lent, these words strike a particular chord.  Since the 1990s, relationships have become a lot more at arm's length, provided you're actually in the room to reach out and can test that distance.   Sarah Goldberg sees a bit of a "lost world" growing up with the saturation of technology that can tell you where you're going via Google Maps, so you can choose whether or not to make or break that appointment and then send the impersonal text.

The time for reflecting and self-examination might get lost in the shuffle of our iPod shuffling a tailored playlist as we work or work out, drive to work or chill out at day's end.  We like noise, we like streaming old episodes of TV shows we've already seen a few times over (who among GenX did not feel tempted to binge watch Friends now that it's on Netflix?).  Spending time with ourselves and really looking at our lives just doesn't seem the priority most days, and I include myself in this observation.

Add in the implications of interacting with our families, neighborhoods, faith communities, social relationships, and you begin to see why we might be predisposed to being sociable only when we feel like we have the energy or interest.  Living in a "24/7" communication world where we can connect with people yet use it as a deterrent or deferral, we have choices to make about our ways of connecting.  Meant to enfranchise communication and make it more efficient, some technologies have become conduits for taking the misanthropic approach to the point that we prefer still to be "islands unto ourselves" or "ships passing in the night".

Congregations in times of anxiety tend to turn inward just like the humans comprising the membership of these churches.  I am an advocate for churches learning to use social media, for pastors to consider using texting and FB messaging to keep in touch with congregants, yet I would be remiss if I did not hope that all of the tech is in service to what furthers our depth of relationship and our sense of being together in Christ.  As much as I love my iPhone to keep in touch, I am much happier speaking one to another in real face to face interaction. 

Luddite?  No, I love technology.  Relic from the 1990s?  Guess so.

SOURCE: Sarah Goldberg's interview can be viewed via:

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