Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tool, toy, or tyrant?

When we returned to the U.S. in April, we decided to use a smart-phone. We knew that with all of our traveling this year, it would be helpful for directions and finding information on the road. We have used it to listen to the Hobbit during our recent travels, check the traffic, watch and listen to baseball games, check e-mail, and all sorts of other useful things. Unfortunately, answering the phone was not so intuitive, but we finally got past that.

Last night, we took the Bart train in San Francisco to go downtown. I watched people get out of the train, and noticed that about 50% of them had earphones in – some talking on the phone, some presumably listening to music or radio. Then, while sitting in the train, I looked around and saw more than half of the passengers actively engaged with their smart-phones – texting, e-mailing, games, reading the news. With these amazing devices, the possibilities are endless!

As Americans, we place high importance on productivity and efficiency. We also value our privacy, and our personal space or personal time. Smartphones seem to respond to all of those cravings, and riding on a train for your daily commute is exactly the space where a smart phone can help you to feel productive by accomplishing multiple things at once – getting to your destination while also checking e-mail, for example. Having a device like a smart-phone also enables us to create the illusion of being in our own private “bubble”…we can interact with whoever we choose to, many miles apart, via the phone, without feeling awkward about ignoring the strangers sitting a few feet away. My friend Catherine wrote a wonderful reflection on this daily commute and how we often act like we are alone in the train full of people.

My mind shifts to numerous rides on the bus in Kananga. Often, we are so jammed and squeezed into the minivan-sized bus that one of us is sitting on the lap of a stranger, or the people are so wedged together that I could not move my leg if I wanted to. Children are passed around to any adult who has a free lap in order to make room for the most number of people. Often, passengers are holding live chickens, or a goat is under the seat. People are shoved and squeezed to rather uncomfortable positions…then the bus goes bumping down the dusty road, and we wince each time it swerves to miss a pothole. Since the bus is far too bumpy and crowded for doing anything “productive”, some lively conversation transpires. When we get on a bus, we often get to be the object of the conversation – and I fight with my inner self and culture that prefers to reach the destination just quietly enjoying my “private world”. But I also thoroughly enjoy this other way of travel …recognizing that we are thrown together as companions on a journey, and don’t need to be afraid of each other.

Paul tells the Ephesians to “Be careful, then, how you live…making the most of every opportunity”. (Eph 5:15-16). Somehow, I don’t think that he was referring to checking e-mail on the train. What do you think? I know that these technological devices can be helpful…but have we gone overboard? How do we ensure that they don’t block us from experiencing “life” and community the way that God desires?

Minibus in KenyaA mini-bus (in Kenya) loads up with people and goods

DSCN5148Getting cozy in the CPC Land Cruiser – ready to travel!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and the contrasts with DRC life. I struggle with the same reaction your friend Catherine does. A couple years ago Sally and I were flying home from a trip to Alaska and we broke the rule and struck up a conversation with a young woman in the seat next to us. She was a native American who grew up in a remote native village with five miles of road and was now a young corporate professional flying to the lower 48 for training. A wonderful addition to our experience of Alaska and its people. After our chat, I went back to my kindle none the worse for our flagrant disregard of protocol :-)

Jerry in Johnson City

Catherine said...

KLB, I wrote that post ages ago! I can't believe you remember/found it! (I love your reflection...and hope I get to see you!)

Anonymous said...

Wow! what bumpy rides. I'll never complain again about the trips we take in our van. It is like riding on air in comparison with what you go through daily. God bless you and muoyo for you all. Tom Chinen