Douglas Groothuis strides to the plate (in his recent post, “Against Multi-tasking”) and takes a mighty swing at an issue I’ve blogged about more times than I care to admit. Noting that our society is like a videotape stuck on fast forward play, with people favoring inhuman virtual worlds they can easily manipulate at a press of a button, he says:
Reality demands an attentiveness that multi-tasking does not allow. Human beings especially tend to be opaque and mysterious beings, whose inner recesses are not easily discerned. We can push a key and make the computer or cell phone do something. We cannot push a key and understand or help change a human being. That kind of being requires more attention, more patience, more suffering. This is because we are made in God’s image and likeness, yet we are fallen and disoriented by sin’s manifold manifestations. We are sinners in need or reorientation according to truth (that which describes reality). Some of the most important truths about ourselves and others and about God himself are not easily fathomed—or when fathomed, they are not easily remembered. The discerning of these truths requires attentiveness, patience, and studiousness. These truths demand, as Pascal noted, being quiet in our own room without distractions or diversions. Conversations concerned about truth and virtue require the engagement of two people who are attending, respecting, and responding to one another without mediation.
Dead. Spot. On. Here’s his summation:
If all this is true and important, several things follow. We need to slow down and become less efficient and effective, at least as these terms are defined by popular culture. We need to unplug more often, endeavoring do just one thing at a time and to do one thing at a time well. Perhaps we should simply listen to music in order to discern its nature, structure, and aesthetic value. This requires a one-pointed immersion into its sonic reality. Just listen and think. Maybe we should simply listen to another person, laboring to exegete his or her soul and bring our soul to bear on another’s pain, yearnings, and boredom. Perhaps we should read the Bible in book form and not jump from text to text to image to image as we do while “reading” it in cyberspace. (Is that really reading or merely retinizing?) Maybe we need to talk to someone on the phone and not listen to music while talking, not type an email while listening, not exercise while listening. Maybe much should change—within and without. Much should change if we think truth is being lost, relationships are being cheapened, and virtues are being soiled by our incessant dividedness, fragmentation, and alienation known as “multi-tasking.”
And…there’s the whiff.
Great stance. Fluid form. Eye on the ball. But it’s a “K” nonetheless.
I know Groothuis is blogging and it’s not a doctoral dissertation on the subject, but the Church has got to provide better answers. Groothuis has a stellar mind and I’d love for someone in his position to develop this more in the company of other great Christian thinkers and leaders. For all our sakes, it must be developed more than telling us to unplug from our devices and stop multi-tasking.
Take the average person who…
- Gets up at 5 AM for work, showers, gets dressed
- Eats a quick breakfast
- Reads the Bible for a few minutes and tries to fit in a couple minutes of prayer
- Commutes forty-five minutes to work through snarled traffic
- Starts work at 7:30 AM
- Skips lunch or eats quickly in the cubicle
- Bails from work ten hours after starting
- Drives forty-five minutes home through snarled traffic
- Changes clothes
- Sits down to eat dinner at around 7 PM
- Manages to play a couple minutes with the kids
- Helps put the kids to bed
- Manages about fifteen minutes alone doing something personally worthwhile
- Squeezes in a few minutes of talk and possibly a prayer with the spouse
- Gets ready for bed
- Hits the hay at 10 PM
That’s now the existence for a huge number of people in the United States. Given that, I must ask when we find the time for the “single-tasking” Groothuis insists we need?
That schedule I just listed is what needs to be fixed. Church leaders wonder why folks won’t commit to more volunteer activities. I’ve got to ask if any of the leaders in the Church today understand that kind of schedule and its ubiquitousness. If they do, and they hate it as much as the people stuck in it, then why is the Church in America not doing a single thing to reform that kind of schedule?
Honestly, the disconnect blows my mind. To his credit, Groothuis nails the problem beautifully. But when we start decrying the lack of singlemindedness to deconstruct the finer points of a Beethoven sonata while simultaneously asking people to work the kind of schedule most do, I’ve got to wonder, Did we just step off the planet?
This evening, my wife and I collapsed on our couch and talked for five minutes about the truth that people are exhausted when they end their day, but not in the good way that comes from physical labor, the kind that is capped by a sweet rush of endorphins and peace in the nerves. No, the exhuastion that afflicts us today is stress-induced, the kind that blurs all thoughts and makes pushing a button the sum total of all we can muster before we slump into bed to worry about the next day, fitfully tossing and turning as the digits flicker by in rapid succession on the nightstand alarm clock.
Today’s Christians can’t start talking about depth of meaning and greater purpose if at the very core of what we do each day there’s nothing but a treadmill stuck on the “Verge of Insanity” setting. Talking on the phone while we read our e-mail is a symptom of a greater problem because choosing to talk on the phone now, followed by reading the e-mail later, simply isn’t an option for a lot of people. We’ve got to fix the hectic madness we must obey or else risk a trampling by the mad rush of the rest of the world.
Who is speaking to the greater whole of our daily scheduled existence? Who is bold enough to provide viable solutions for getting at the root of our modern work lives that command such extreme chronological attention? Will our pastor be the one to explain to our bosses why we refuse to carry a corporate-mandated cellphone guaranteed to ring at least a half dozen times each weekend (and at least twice during each evening?)
It’s time to stop talking in theoreticals. And no more Band-Aids for severed limbs, either.
I would issue this challenge to Douglas Groothuis, a much smarter man than I am: How can Christians find a more Christ-honoring means of practical living than the system we have now in place—the one that is killing us, wrecking our families, and destroying our churches? How do we step out of society’s hamster wheel? Why is the Church in America not speaking to this? Why are there no answers other than the simpleminded ones we repeatedly offer but which continually fail to fix this issue?
If people are not living the abundant life because of the system of living we have created, then for the sake of the Kingdom of God we better find a way to beat the system.
Now, where do we start?