Becoming e-families but not bodies in vats
Real Families: Meditations on family lifeby Michael A. King
"It's time, Dad," my daughter Kristy said. "You need to get on Facebook." Soon there I was on Facebook, obedient if bewildered.
Not long ago, Jose and I went out to breakfast. Jose, younger than Kristy, fulminated against Facebook. And when people ask why he’s late to a meeting, he told me, he informs them he doesn't track meetings set up by email.
Gatherings with family and friends appall Jose: everybody on cells and laptops tapping and thumbing and tweeting and text-text-texting away, then looking up just long enough to be in photos uploaded instantly to Facebook so all around the world people at their respective gatherings can watch each other taking photo breaks from their tap-thumb-tweet-texting.
So there we have it. Millions plugged into the Internet hive, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, as in a science fiction movie, we’re in vats being fed by robots while our brains feed us the illusion that we can still actually see, touch, hear, taste and smell a physical world.
I was resonating right along with Jose, righteously proud of never having learned to text on my prehistoric 2003 cell phone. This is why my daughters know to text me in such a way that I can use autorespond to send back either "answer is yes" or "answer is no."
Then I remembered the day my brothers and I were on our first trip ever with each other as adults. First thing we did at our B&B was pull out laptops. Pretty soon one brother was emailing photos of the trip to the other brothers, cc. to our families so they could all be jealous of—I mean share in—our adventures. In a few minutes we started getting back alarmed messages from spouses and children loving the pictures but wondering if we really were in the same room emailing each other instead of talking.
Yes, it was sick. It was also fun to be in that room linked not only to each other but also family wherever any of us were. So now I’m confused. Bad e-world, I was thinking, with Jose. But maybe good e-world, too?
Take my last birthday. I had half-forgotten it myself, but when I logged onto Facebook that morning, flooding in came "Happy Birthdays" from family and friends near and far, often farther than nearer, since many Facebook friends go back to college days or way way back. Some go back even to Triqueland in Mexico, where I was a missionary kid, and our family and theirs visited there in the Oaxaca mountains of what was to them just home and to us a mystic land of fog and wonder.
I was embarrassed, given how ambivalent I am about Facebook, to realize what a glow those birthday wishes cast over my day. I couldn’t quite believe I was catching myself thinking it, but I found the Hebrews 12:1 phrase "cloud of witnesses" running through my head. I felt surrounded that birthday by a Facebook cloud of witnesses. There were too many of them for me to remember, without looking at the list, who all of them were. Yet they represented such a cross-section of my relationships and life chapters past and present that I felt as if in some way they were all members, whether by blood or by faith and friendship and shared history, of one great extended e-family, cradling that day my entire life journey in supportive hands.
Jose is right. We are flirting with insanity as the e-world’s tentacles spread everywhere. And maybe soon enough if not already our bodies will indeed lie in vats while our minds roam the universe.
I also can't quite shake the memory of our dear mother trying to pull us children from books out into fresh air. We just wanted our bodies to lie in the vats of their beds and maybe for Mom to feed the bodies sandwiches so our minds could roam book universes. Now books are those old-fashioned things threatened by the e-world, which makes this book lover and publisher sad. Yet books have themselves been blowing up prebook cultural patterns for centuries. Researchers are even finding that reading physically rewires our brains, as the e-world surely does, too. Books can be and do awful things. They can also bless us beyond measure.
We've learned to treat books as terrible and wonderful. I suspect we need to learn to treat the e-world the same way. So yes, when tap-thumb-tweet-text family and friends replace flesh-and-blood versions, tragedy is afoot. Yet maybe our e-families also are in their way real ones, even ones within which God is at work as e-families connect and cross-connect and nurture each other until at last truly they form a worldwide e-cloud of witnesses.
Michael A. King, Telford, Pa., is publisher of Cascadia Publishing House, LLC, editor of DreamSeeker Magazine, a pastor and speaker and a Facebook friend.
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