Everybody’s talking at me.
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only the echoes of my mind.
— Harry Nilsson, “Everybody’s Talking At Me”
I now sit behind a Plexiglas wall.
It’s about five feet high and surrounds most of my drum kit. To drown out the deafening wall of sound reflected off the barrier from my drumming, I wear in-ear monitors that seal off everything but the mix (which I’m not in).
When the rest of the worship team talks to each other, I don’t hear them. Or I get a strange, far away echo picked up from the stage mics. Disembodied voices that seem to come from nowhere, yet everywhere, the words mingling into murk.
There’s a vibe you get as a musician playing in a band. When everyone’s doing their thing right, you gain a sixth sense of where the music is going. You can riff off what others do. You feel a part of something bigger than yourself and your contribution to the music. It’s almost a rapturous thing.
Unless you sit cut off in your own little room.
As of the start of the year, I now sit behind a Plexiglas wall. And jammed in my head are tiny, sophisticated speakers supposedly keeping me connected to the outer world.
It’s a perfect metaphor.
I’ve been on Facebook about a year. I think it has replaced my normal community, not because I wanted it to, but because it’s what others I know have rushed to embrace.
I think everyone is rushing. Not a single small group I’m a part of meets regularly anymore. No one can find a place on the schedule. Which is why Facebook is appealing. You and I can maintain the semblance of a relationship to other humans by texting from a Blackberry all the fun things we’re doing by ourselves.
I long ago gave up scheduling parties. Trying get three couples together face-to-face to do anything is akin to mounting an expedition to Everest.
So we text. And the Facebook walls fill up with graffiti.
I read fewer blogs anymore. It’s a lot of text from people who increasingly seem like the imaginary friends of my childhood. I find it a bit disturbing. That line in Ecclelsiastes that reads that the making of books has no end was long before the profusion of text bombarding us from every direction, most of it utterly throwaway.
We have all these high tech devices to help us communicate, but as I see it, there’s never been less genuine, lasting communication than there is today.
Below is just a sampling of news stories I’ve seen recently (and yes, I understand the circular nature of that statement):
‘Internet Addiction’ Linked to Depression, Says Study
Could it be that something about our society today causes depression, and those most affected by it are the ones seeking a respite in the “approved” source of modern comfort, the Internet?
Computers Can’t Replace Us
Tech pundit Jaron Lanier laments the dumbing down of interaction and the lost sense of identity that the Internet fosters.
The Teens Who Can Barely Talk
What happens when a person’s vocabulary reflects only words found in the most commonly texted phrases?
In Praise of Online Obscurity
When Wired magazine wonders if all this social media is only robbing our relational bank accounts and diluting effective communication, well…
The Facebook Myth
Plenty of cause-joining, quiz-taking, and online activity, but does it amount to so much self-pleasuring and sloth?
I look at what is happening to communication and connection and wonder why we need this tech middleman to work as a go-between that links you and me to real life. I wonder if the depressed person is the one caught in the move away from the kind of face-to-face community cachet that used to fill our relational bank accounts. I read the above articles and I’m chilled by them.
And now I want to make one of the most bold statements I think I’ve ever made on Cerulean Sanctum:
In all my years of watching the Church, I’ve never seen an individual church improved by technology, only diminished by it.
I want to add that there is a difference between lifeblood and convenience. Tech can make things more convenient. Having a computer and color laserpinter to design and print the church bulletins is great for convenience. But no computer or laserprinter can build the core functions of the Church. And when we confuse convenience with lifeblood, look out.
Yet how is it that churches are spending collective billions to become more tech savvy? How is it that upgrading the sound system in the church can become more important than helping a member fix her car or pay a bill he cannot pay due to job loss?
And how is it that we think we can insert tech into the basics of the faith and make them better? We had hymnals, then overhead projectors, then Powerpoint slide shows, and now we have the words of the music we sing to God backed by a full-blown media presentation complete with a 24-fps YouTube video of other people worshiping and capped by a Blue Angels flyover.
How can we not understand what we’re losing?
We can plaster our church lobbies with costly flat-panel displays showing stock photo slideshows of smiling, fair-haired people with nice teeth telling visitors to our church just how much we love them, yet those very same visitors can walk out without a handshake and a genuine human being who says, “Hey! Come join my wife and me for lunch after the service.”
We can pour line after line of text into Facebook and still not understand that our “friends” are desperate to truly connect with other people, yet no longer know how.
We can grow jealous of the person who has the tech device we don’t, which allows him or her to communicate in a way we can’t afford.
We can continue to buy into the marketing that we must surround ourselves with yet one more tech gizmo we didn’t know we truly needed—and then miss the reality that none of us seem to get together anymore.
And we can fill our churches with millions of bucks worth of tech, only to find each of us behind a Plexiglas wall, our in-the-ear monitors failing to pick up the full conversation, as we wonder what happened to that freeing vibe we used to feel in the music of real community.
I can’t help but think that technology is turning our human conversations into white noise, even as it isolates us and leads us to a place of asking if anyone really, truly cares.