My 16 year old son is very irritating. He sits in the kitchen with the radio on, and as soon as one song finishes, he flicks to another station. He doesn’t like listening to the presenters or adverts, and he is quite fussy about the songs he is prepared to listen to.
I think the trouble is that I have let Google wire his brain. He is evidence of a world in which experiences are chosen by an individual in short packages depending on how attractive the heading is on a results page. Those experiences might be entertainment or information or interactions with friends. Everything is individualized, atomized and fragmented. Or is it actually more connected, but in a different way – a giant web with many nodal points, each centred on a person with the webs from that node constructed according to that person’s choices but interwoven with webs from other personal nodes?
Educationalists (including the Education Secretary) speak about the days of thirty children in front of a teacher being numbered. They paint a picture of personalized learning, with students choosing their own curriculum, which they access on a computer in a booth.
I don’t like the look of this new world. In our house we have Radio 4 on all day (just not in the kitchen when our son is there) and we learn lots of interesting things we didn’t know we were interested in before. I spend a lot of time putting together programmes of worship, hymns, prayers, sermons, teaching and so on. My idea is that these programmes will engage people’s attention, most importantly in God, and challenge them and stretch them. I also think that community is very important, and one of the things I am trying to do is encourage people to join together and build deeper and more committed communities. I am perpetually puzzled that most people are not interested.
Am I being a complete Luddite? Am I just worried that what I have to offer would be impossible to market attractively on a results page? Is my son being a prophet to his old Dad? Is he channeling the voice of God to me to get with the new world, to be better connected, to join Facebook, to write a blog (done that, just now), to buy a smart phone, to drag the Radio 4-style church into the 21st century?
Or am I right to be concerned? Is this new culture leading us away from engagement with a world of pain and need and finding God within it? Is this new culture so dependent on technology (and devices that are out-of-date as soon as you buy them) that it is obscenely wasteful and unsustainable?
Or is the choice more complex than that? Is a world of sustainable justice and peace for over 7 billion people only possible through the creative use of new technologies?
My decision will have to wait. I’ve got a 20-minute sermon to write and choose some suitable hymns for everyone on Sunday.