Cordless: How to be a revolutionary in one phone call

So, we cut our cable on Monday. Really, we canceled Direct TV, but I’m not sure how to quantify that (blocked our satellite feed?). The whole process took about ten minutes, and I almost felt bad for the lady who tried to get me to change my mind. She offered one insignificant price reduction. When I said no, she just went ahead with the cancellation. It’s like she was ready to give up.

Now, like millions of other Americans, or billions of people around the world, or every human who ever lived before roughly 1980, we don’t have cable. It’s really a revolutionary stance we’ve taken.

I already miss Sportscenter.

We talked about how we’ll save money by cancelling, how we’ll probably watch less television, how this move will align us more closely to what we say our priorities are. And that’s a good thing. But we still have the internet, and Netflix, and I still have more entertainment options than 99% of anyone who’s ever lived.

But what this move is, and what my conversations with my wife about it were about, is a move toward intentionality. I want to be intentional when I sit down in front of a screen, because sitting in front of a screen is a move that often reduces relationship. Yes, there are great things about what our screens can do, but there are terrible things, as well. And while I could rail about pornography or the sad nature of comments on any given article, I think the most practical problem that screens bring is a removal from those around us, a removal from those we’re communicating with. Even now, through this website, the pixels you read are a sad substitute (I hope) for my unkempt hair and unshaven face (I’m on vacation). They are easy.

Relationships are not so easy. They are harder, and they require us to do things that we sometimes don’t want to do. But they are also infinitely better.

Last night, with the television off, my four-year old and I kicked a small beach ball around the house. We chased after it, diving over each other; it bounced off the couch and the table and under the tree; my daughter giggled with a naive beauty. It had been a hard day, and she’s going through a phase where she pushes us on most of what we say, which I realize is also a good thing in the long view.

But we needed time to giggle.

Perhaps this is how revolutions start. With a yearning. With a step, however small. So we step, completely aware of our continued dependence on screens, even the goodness of screens. But we step to offer our presence to each other, to engage, to dive on the floor after a beach ball.

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On Writing…

So, I woke up this morning in a rather poor mood.  I stayed up too late, because we watched a creepy TV show, and then Brooke said she wanted to watch something else, to fill her mind with different images.  Naturally, she fell asleep as we started the pilot episode of “Psych” whereas I stayed up for another hour.  Whoops.

Ellis woke up coughing an hour earlier than usual.  It was my turn to get up with her.

I don’t know what to do when I’m in a bad mood.  I don’t know how to get out of my own way, how to connect with God or the people around me.  Today, I just ducked into my own shell and finished the book I was reading — The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman.

The book is a marvel.  As all good books do, it is a story about so much.  A newspaper, and the change in society and technology: the struggle the newspaper faces, the struggles the workers face.  A man’s legacy, and how his family fights to keep his newspaper alive.  In following a cast of imperfect characters, it is also a story about ambition and love and loss.  Rachman writes with a journalistic prose: straight and to the point.  He manages to write equally effectively whether he tells the story of a heartbroken man who becomes blindly driven, or about a woman who is all alone on New Year’s Eve, holed up in a hotel so she doesn’t have to stay in her apartment.

At the end of the book, Malcolm Gladwell has a brief interview with Rachman.  In it, Gladwell states how the internet is polarizing, “it has the result of either making you like [the writer] a great deal more than you would otherwise (this is the foundation of Internet dating) or hate them a good deal more than you would otherwise (this is the reason blog comments are so nasty.”  Gladwell goes on to state that fiction reading is a “social discipline,” it is a chance to see characters with nuance and subtlety, to see them with their flaws and strengths, their fantasies and regrets.  In doing so, fiction creates empathy.

While neither Gladwell nor Rachman would assert that fiction writing is itself edifying (there are a great deal of infamously cruel fiction writers), they danced around the edifying aspect of it.  In reading, for one, we see characters as they truly are, and we are not allowed (by the author) to come up with snap judgments.  Writing is the same.

Rachman writes as a journalist.  He tells one moving scene where a woman cuts herself — a dark and disturbing image — yet retains an unsentimental eye; he does not try to make the reader feel sorry for the woman.  In doing so, he actually creates more sentiment: their is no judgment for the woman: this is who she is in her pain and loss and confusion, and we are to have sympathy for her, to root for her despite her myriad other annoying tendencies.

For me, this is one reason why I write.  I need process.  I often cannot tell Brooke how I feel about an event or conversation until hours after, sometimes days.  I need to think.  Writing is often this process.  It allows me to search for meaning in random events, to try to understand confusing people, to see how the pieces of this world fall together.

Writing, and reading fiction, makes me more of the person that I want to be, more of the person I believe God wants me to be.  It, as Gladwell points out, is a social discipline: good writing refuses snap judgments.  And, at least for me, it is an edifying process: I can expel both my junk and my goodness on the page, in equal parts, even at the same time.

I know that whenever a new technology comes about, people panic over how that technology affects us.  And, I believe at the end of the day, that people are similar to how we were 50, or 100, or 2000 years ago: full of the same love and hate and ambition and sympathy.

But.

I cannot help but wonder, maybe a new technology changes how people interact, even for a short time, before they realize the error of their ways.  For example, fiction reading has dropped dramatically since 9/11.  In that same time, internet use has skyrocketed, and we get increasingly inane snippets, increasingly polarizing glimpses of others.  Even long serving members of Congress have admitted that the culture has changed: there is less sacrifice, less desire to work together.

I wonder how our tools and toys are changing us without us knowing it, and when we, as a society, will recapture some of this social discipline: of seeing with nuance and subtlety and sympathy.