Living More-with-Less

Technology & Media

Txt or ftwsh?

Youth are less impressed with technology now than they were just a few years ago, according to Alan Stucky, pastor at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church in Harper, Kansas. Perhaps because they feel inundated by screens, many youth seem to find deep meaning in practices that involve the body and the senses in worship, Alan says.

"Embodiment practices have connected with youth more," he says, adding that "things such as having a natural flame for communion seem to be especially meaningful."

Alan notes that the most interesting and intense practice of faith that heís done with youth is foot washing. Every time he initiates a foot washing activity, a few kids wonít participate because they say itís too personal to have someone touch their feet—even while texting and social networking are changing the very definitions of privacy.

"Our feet—something traditionally very, very public—are now becoming one of the most private parts of our body," Alan says. "Itís the practices of the church that bring us together in physical and real ways that connect us."

Submitted by Laura Schlabach, Goshen, Ind.

Enough wattage.

The lights go out, again, and everyone starts looking for candles. This is a fact of life in Bangladesh. In the villages the power is off more than it is on. Some families have started using solar power. You can get a forty-watt system—the most popular size—for three hundred U.S. dollars. This isnít enough wattage for a fan, but it will run some lights, charge your mobile, and most importantly, power your black and white television.

Mobile phones and televisions are the first electrical appliances people buy, even before a fan. Everybody from young students to rickshaw drivers have mobile phones. I often see people walking around with headphones plugged into their phones, listening to music. On a long bus ride, one person proudly showed me his thirty-seven songs on his phone.

Chanmia, a night guard at our house, uses his mobile phone for watching movies. He will spend twenty taka (about thirty cents) to download the latest Bangla dramas. While he spends his paychecks on his mobile phone, his house is probably like everyone elseís: made of mud, without an electrical hook-up. But the mobile phone is worth it to him: with his phone, he can see and listen to the world.

Nathan Charles, Bogra, Bangladesh

Forget the phone.

During the fall of 2007, I left my electronic possessions behind when I ventured up into the mountains near Ashland, Ore., for a semester at the Oregon Extension program. At first, I felt disconnected from the world and wondered how I would get by with only a few phone calls a week and two painfully sluggish dial-up computers to check email between seventeen students.

But as time went on, the desperate need to check for messages and spend energy following whatever media frenzy was currently flashing on TV slowly slipped from my mind. Instead of feeling detached from life, I found myself growing deeper and deeper in tune with genuine life and relationship with myself and in my immediate community. I felt intensely present and engaged in those moments up in the southern Oregon hills.

It became not an experience of denying wants, but rather of gaining an incredible, nurturing gift. I found that it was in these places that I encountered God most fully, where there was room made for the Spirit to fulfill me, away from the distractions of what most of us have come to know as everyday life.

Maggie Gilman, Portland, Ore.

Would Shakespeare tweet?

Shakespeare wrote his plays and sonnets with a quill pen. In his book Walden, Thoreau boasted of simply sitting on his front steps for an entire morning, "rapt in a reverie" of wonder. Would Shakespeare have written any better with a word processor? What if Thoreau had preferred to fill his empty hours perusing Twitter?

Like many, we have embraced much modern electronic technology with caution. There is a financial cost to it, but mostly we wonder about how it affects our souls. We ask questions: Does it take up our free time, the time that we should instead reserve for reading, gardening, talking with each other? Do the new forms of social media mean that we can be "connected" with a disparate community, yet remain disconnected with those immediately present?

Some of our biggest concerns are for the younger generation. As children, we remember fondly running in the woods or organizing games in the street. We developed creativity, social skills, and got lots of sunshine and exercise. It would seem that the younger generation is now fixated on screens, either TV or some electronic device—often within the palm of their hands. Is that what we want for them and ourselves?

Jane and Russ Eanes, Scottdale, Pa.

Take a month off.

I turn the computer on too often. For work, for pleasure, just because. I check my email too often, even though I am generally disappointed both if there is new mail (more work) or not (need to go back to what I was trying to distract myself from). I check news websites too often. Not because I want to inform myself about the needs of the world but just for some titillation, or diversion, or just something. I also turn the radio on too often—not usually out of healthy interest, but for an info "fix."

I need distraction, stimulation, anything. I need the radio on. I would turn the TV on far too often if we had one, which is one of the reasons we donít. So, to see if I could curb my addiction, I decided to deprive myself of some distractions and electronic interactions. For one month I would: 1) Not turn the radio on. I wasnít going to flee as soon as my wife turned on a radio, but I was never going to respond to the urge to turn it on myself. 2) Not use the computer at all on Sundays and Tuesdays (Iím at home with my son on Tuesdays so I donít need it for work). 3) Not use the Internet outside of work hours (9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) on the rest of the days. 4) Not visit any online news sites.

Despite the rather unambitious scope of my experiment, I fell off the wagon almost immediately. Without even noticing. On the first day. I got up from the computer and went into the kitchen where I saw that it was 8:34 p.m., well after my 5:30 cutoff. I had just been online for an hour. I just plain forgot. The Internet is sneaky that way. I failed in my experimental resolution several other times too.

But despite my failures, it was a good month. I was more present to my son, my wife, my work and the world. Every time I got the urge to turn on the radio I simply reminded myself to be present to what was in front of me—the feel of the dishwater on my hands, the weight of my little boy sitting on my lap, the egg I was frying and the farm it came from.

In short, I find myself slightly re-sensitized to the wonder as well as the wounds in my life and in the world around me. I am slightly more able to care. Sure, Iíll backslide, and Iím still heavily computer-dependent, but I know that much of the experiment will stick. Email still holds allure, but Iíve reconnected with the allure of the present, and it has a spiritual gravity thatís hard to resist.

Will Braun (adapted from Spring 2009 issue of Geez), Winnipeg, Man.

When a two-dollar phone is high tech.

When Ethan Hughes wakes up, he knows he will only interact with four things that day: himself, his neighbors, nature, and God. No cell phone, no Internet, no stereo, no television. Ethan is one of ten fulltime residents of the Possibility Alliance, a machine-, electricity- and gasoline-free farm in northeast Missouri. He and his wife, Sarah, founded the project in 2007.

Inspired by Christís example of living simply, they wanted to reduce their impact on the environment and to model ways of living well under the taxable income line. The farm is all but electronics-free. Their most high-tech device is a two-dollar Goodwill phone. For Ethan, the use of technology is neither right nor wrong. He believes that some people—documentary filmmakers are one example he cites—are called to vocations that require it.

He sees value in technology, but asks if itís worth losing the things it replaces. "We need to acknowledge the beauty in technology and basically trump it with something more beautiful," he said. "We donít have as much, but I spend every day with my daughter and my wife. Every night we talk for hours because we donít have TV."

It hasnít always been easy. All the same, he doesnít regret it. "Yes there are challenges, but weíre here to be alive." Hughes said. "Isnít worth the risk?"

Submitted by Paul Boers, Goshen, Ind.

For more information

Conflict-Free Electronics: Find out about the connections between electronic devices and the war in eastern Congo, and contact the twenty-one major electronics corporations to urge them to make their products "conflict free." Organized by The Enough Project, a campaign to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

Electronics Take-Back Campaign: Works to make electronics manufacturers responsible for the safe design, manufacture, and recycling of their equipment.

Center for Screen Time Awareness: An international nonprofit dedicated to helping families and communities take control of electronic media in their lives rather than letting it control them.

Pew Internet & American Life Project: Contains information and reports about the impact of the Internet on American families, communities, education, health care, and daily life.

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