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Focus for the tech-distracted

In Living into Focus, Boers goes beyond easy escapism and takes a pastoral approach to technology.

Pretty much everyone agrees that our technology use can be unhealthy these days. Most of us have either ranted about someone else’s unhealthy tech habits or recognized some of our own, whether it’s mindless TV watching, constant tweeting, or texting while walking.

I usually agree with these observations, but get annoyed at what comes next. Sometimes people wax nostalgic for “the good old days” (usually conveniently located in their own heyday) when technology was apparently so much simpler.

Similarly, I get annoyed when people just say we should disconnect and eliminate as much tech as possible from our lives.

Both of these approaches seem like wishful thinking and easy escapism.

That’s why I liked Living into Focus by the Rev. Dr. Arthur Boers (Brazos Press, 2012). In this book, Boers can describe in detail how our society is obsessed with technology, by drawing out the historical context (clocks have replaced crucifixes on our walls) and noting the scary stats. (Almost two-thirds of North Americans spend more time on computers than with their spouses.)

But Boers brings something new to the table: a practical, pastoral approach that draws heavily on the work of philosopher Albert Borgmann. Boers offers spiritual approaches to these problems, most notably the idea of “focal practices.”

A focal practice is something that puts you in touch with a commanding presence, has an element of the unexpected, and points to a greater reality. Activities like hiking, gardening, and playing music with a group all have these qualities.

Focal practices take work but they mean putting good things at the “hearth” of your life. (“Focus” comes from the Latin word for “hearth.”) Technology can creep in to occupy this space or we can fill the hearth with activities that offer deeper satisfaction—time with family, walking, praying—and put technology in service of these goals.

One of my favourite points is when Boers suggests that Christians should be “eccentric,” having different centres than other people in society.

Another great thing about this book is that Boers manages to navigate this close-to-home topic in a cheerful, humble tone. He admits he’s played one too many computer games. He works in a real-life office where he has to deal with scads of email. He admits none of this is easy.

So I’d recommend Living into Focus as a good book to re-set your ideas about technology this fall.

What about you? Which books have influenced your use of technology?


Ali Symons

About Ali Symons

Ali formerly served as senior editor at the Anglican Church of Canada. Her work included writing news articles, producing multimedia pieces, and helping people figure out how to tell their stories. "Zoom in: I fix em dashes. Zoom out: I help share the Good News."
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