What attracted people to the technology that Steve Jobs fostered through Apple is its seemingly personal nature, from user-friendly “personal” computers such as the iMac, to handheld devices like iPods and iPads and iPhones as well as apps like iTunes —putting “I” first—which stands for both “internet” and “individual.” That could account for the worldwide grief at his death, though books, articles, and films document that he was less than warm and cuddly in person.
I’ve witnessed much wringing of hands, wailing and gnashing of teeth over what this technology will do to us, from our reading habits to our social interactions.
It’s well to remember that once there had been similar angst over the proliferation of books, especially novels! When reading was only for the literate, privileged elite, many were suspicious that widespread and frequent reading made possible by the printing press might be detrimental to readers and social structures alike.
As some today fret over the iHunch, that posture adopted by users of laptops, tablets, and cell phones, I imagine there were similar concerns about those hunched over a book. And what about those hunched over in prayer?
What your mother told you is right, good posture is—well, good! Yoga teaches us that positioning the body in intentional poses is spiritually and physically beneficial. And in meditation, aligning the chakras by sitting or standing up straight is vital for spiritual energy to flow through us.
I’ve written in one of my books on spirituality that Christians have our own “yoga” positions, from kneeling in awe or in penitence to, as the first Christians prayed, arms raised, shoulders back, palms facing out, and head uplifted with eyes opened to the heavens.
Our technological gurus similarly advise an upright posture when using our various internet devices: it makes us more open and receptive, more self-affirming, more gracious.
Of more concern to me is the wrangling over what technology does to our reading habits. When I began my blog, I was warned that most people use the internet for information rather than meditation, but that is also true of how people use books, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of media. Even the Bible has been diminished by those reading it for information rather than inspiration.
For a long time I resisted reading a newspaper in other than in its traditional form, turning its pages as the ink rubbed off on my fingers. But undependable delivery and cheaper costs drove me to a tablet, and frankly, I read much more of the paper this way and a wider breadth of articles than before.
And how I read it is up to me, just as certainly as it is up to you. The “i” in iSpirituality might represent more than “individual” and “internet.” It may stand also for “intentional.”
If I read only for information, without reflection, or read only the “objective” news articles and not the opinion pages and research findings, I am spiritually bereft. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know how often I reference The New York Times in my posts. News requires as much prayerful thought as scriptures.
That’s true of e-mails, posts, and tweets as well. We’ve probably all had the experience of someone telling us they didn’t receive “that” e-mail, though they have responded to another part of it! They just didn’t spend enough time with it, perhaps failing to scroll down for the complete message.
Henri Nouwen pointed out that the root words of “entertainment” literally mean “to keep between,” that is, in a state of tension. Entertainment is fine, he wrote, but if we live our lives solely for entertainment, we will never be able to rest and reflect. So part of my spiritual discipline is to limit my time on the internet, on Facebook, and on my phone to enjoy uninterrupted silence and have time to pray, meditate, write, and engage with those people and things that are physically present.
And in dealing with a challenging e-mail, I often leave my response in my computer overnight to avoid being reactionary. Nouwen also wrote of the spiritual contrast between heartfelt responding and merely reacting.
Using the “off” switch and the “silent” and “sleep” and “shut down” modes on all our devices can be user-friendly and spiritually beneficial.
Just as the internet and its technology may be made personal, iSpirituality may awaken individuals to the worldwide spiritual internet, helping us see the connection of the personal to the universal, the individual to the international. And by “spiritual” I don’t mean other-worldly, non-physical, or immaterial, for the “i” in iSpirituality could stand for “incarnational” as well.
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