Thursday, February 9, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Just a new version of the old fashioned ‘party line’
I’m writing this column two days early because of an out-of-town commitment. But before I sat down to type, I checked my e-mail. That leads me to my subject. How have e-mail and the Internet changed your life?
Chances are that most of you have a computer, and many may be reading these words via the Internet edition of The South Reporter. If so, you don’t have to wait for Louis Greene to come around with your paper anymore. You just click a few keys and there is The South Reporter. So, I ask once more, how have e-mail and the Internet changed your life?
My first computer came in 1985, a little Macintosh. I still have it. It is quaint and old-fashioned. It helped me do many things — some things that I might not have done without it. For one thing, I like to write. And I am sure I have written a great deal more because of the ease and convenience of the computer.
Computers make editing much easier. You can move sentences around and change words easily. You can also search for and find things you’ve said in other places.
But not every thought is “publishable,” or ought not to be. Is there some reflection lost that is crucial because the computer lets one “write too fast?” I fear that there is. Have you ever wished you could catch an e-mail and bring it back, but too late, you’ve already pressed the “send” button? I know I have.
I have books of a thousand pages telling about all the inner meanings of the Gospel of John. Whether John really hid all those ideas in his words is a point to debate, but would that gospel be so rich if the beloved disciple had banged it out on a computer?
We shall have to see if any great poets come from the computer age. Shelby Foote wrote his big books on the Civil War the old fashioned way, with a legal pad and a pencil.
There is also a sense in which the computer is a seductive mistress. A good deal of my day is spent at this screen — preparing sermons, Sunday School lessons, church bulletins and newsletters — also, turning on the e-mail every few minutes to see if anyone has checked in.
Then there are all kinds of details to look up on the Internet. It really is an encyclopedia, dictionary, and Bible concordance for preachers right at the fingertips. (But I refuse to get sermons from any source called “Yahoo!”)
My point is — that like the telephone that rings any time it pleases, or like the television that blathers on and on — the computer can eat up your day. I talk to so many people by e-mail that I am positively crushed if I don’t have a message from somebody every ten minutes!
Does that mean the preacher spends too much time with “chit-chat?” (I am also electronically connected to the other 40 Presbyterian ministers in North Mississippi.)
I will say that e-mail enables me to communicate with folks I’d never get around to writing, and for that I am profoundly grateful. However, due to the transitory nature of the servers, my e-address has changed so many times, that I am sure many friends think I have spurned them, when actually their messages are floating around in cyberspace, because the old servers did not tell them my e-address was changed! (One of the most wonderful things about computers is their dependability!)
My daily load of e-communication consists of a good many jokes (some of which are so lame and have been around since I was a child, and some of which I really enjoy); also, there are also large doses of “forwarded” political columns — all that talk has apparently moved from the barber shop to the computer screen — and then the “real letters,” actual communications intended for me — but there is also a great tendency to copy every letter one writes to two or three other people that may have minor connections and interests to what is written to me.
So e-mail and the Internet is just a new version of the old fashioned “party line.” Nothing you say is really private, which means that nothing is (or ought) to be shared that is truly important — which brings me back to the question whether it really is an efficient use of time. Yes, e-mail and the Internet fill time, but at the cost of what else?
I am finding it is easier now to read less (fewer real books, I mean), to neglect visiting people, or even talking to the others in the house, to say my prayers, and to be content with my thoughts.
Humans in the 20th century have become dependent upon external stimulation to a degree and an extent that our ancestors never conceived. Imagine walking behind a mule in the field all day with no one to talk to, and no other sounds but those that nature makes. Most of us would go mad!
This week the TV cable was on the blink, so I decided to leave the set off until the cable was “good and fixed.” It would probably be best to do the same with the computer. And just as soon as I check the e-mail again, I am going to shut it off until noon!
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