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Old technology, borrowed nostalgia, and hipster Christianity


Hipster “Smile,” by Cubmundo on Flickr

I came across a headline in this morning’s Toronto Sun that jumped out at me: Guelph family lives like it’s 1986. The article observes a fascinating experiment: one family’s commitment to spend an entire year living without technology created after 1986. Being Church-folk, my mind couldn’t help but jump to A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically, or Rachel Held Evans’ response, A Year of Biblical Womanhood–both documenting thoughtful, if not tongue-in cheek attempts to live in modern society while interpreting the Bible literally. Like Jacobs and Evans, I trust that the family committed to 1986 living will be changed by the experiment: able to think more critically about the ideals we, as a society, adopt somewhat haphazardly. But like these two authors, I suspect they may find parts of their daily lives slipping into irrelevance.

Leaving technology behind seems, at first, like a noble goal. Before the Internet, relationships we simpler, right? At least… until the kids moved to the other side of the country. Before the Internet, we didn’t think about addictions to technology, right? At least… as long as we don’t consider the TV. Or the automobile. Or the pencil. In any case, I’m guilty of similar nostalgia. Despite living and serving in a digital environment, I use a fountain pen. I gave up disposable razors for a permanent straight edge years ago. Meals at home are cooked in cast iron. But I can’t help but see these decisions in a different light: each was made with careful reflection regarding sustainability. Considering the cost of convenience for individual tools (read: technology), rather than a blanket decision to live the dream of the 1890s. The McMillian family, on the other hand, has chosen a time warp, complete with mullets, moustaches, and VHS tapes. While the discipline seems like it might be fun (doesn’t some part of you want to join them?), I have a hard time seeing it as practical, much less better. I can’t help but wonder if adopting cassette tapes over Facebook only avoids the perceived problem, replacing stewardship with obsolescence, and healthy boundaries with isolation.

I can’t help but wonder, too, how closely nostalgia for better days (and specifically days many of us weren’t living in) is reflected in the Church. Unless you’ve been living under a ecclesiastical rock, you’ve probably noticed that many of us live in extremes: either we want to dispose of or reinvent any tools or practices with a historical ring, or we spend much of our time and energy digging our heels in and pretending, with varying degrees of success, that it’s 1549. And in the midst of those extremes is a generation equipped with modern tools–for communication, music, learning, etc., yet seeking the same spirituality and depth of relationships humanity always has (I wrote about that common thread in an earlier blog).

So what’s the answer? Is modern technology a distraction? I believe it can be. But it also provides us with incredible tools for communication, relationship, and yes, mission. Technology is nothing more than a tool. And a tool, whether a it’s a knife, a match, or a smartphone, requires that its operators practice safe use and healthy boundaries. Are “legacy” or “vintage” tools obsolete? Maybe. The same is true: whether we’re talking about a rotary phone or a liturgy, if it still works, it still works. They key is evaluating both what it asks of those who use it, and whether or not it continues to serve its intended purpose.

Where you you find balance? What about your church? Do you maintain a mix of technology? Do you resist anything new? Anything old? Are you living like it’s 1986?

About Jesse Dymond

I'm a priest from the Diocese of Huron, serving as Online Community Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada. I have a lifelong interest in computer technology, and continue to pursue interdisciplinary studies in science and theology. I love composing and performing music, cooking, photography, sailing, and riding vintage motorcycles.
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