You can't read an online tech site this week without hearing about the new Apple iPad. Traditional media hope this newest gadget will be the savior of newspapers; the New York Times can't help gushing about iPad.

What is the role of all this technology? When is it helpful and when is it a distraction? Working from home, I always have a wifi connection and laptop nearby so I rely on a $20 prepaid cellphone from Target. But the technological distraction isn't just physical. I find myself sometimes so worn out reading blogs that I have no time left for reading the more classic Quaker material that I know will be more nourishing to my spirit. 

How do Friends discern what we might think of as "rightly ordered" technology?

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I have a laptop. That's it. Its for my little online business. Like you Martin, I find myself reading more blogs and articles then books , and it has been bothering me. Even though I only have a laptop, it is definitly a distraction. It sits on my dining room table and calls to me. Time lapses when I am on it, and I am trying to Limit my time on it. But it isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

Maybe there is a 12 step meeting for this kind of thing. Hey, I can start one Oh wait, that would defeat the purpose. ha ha ha
Well, Martin, eat your heart out. My boss says he's going to get an iPad for each of us librarians to play with. I can't say I'm thrilled. I don't know what my problem is, but my laptop pretty much fulfills my online connection needs. I also have a fairly generic cell phone --no Internet connection or picture-taking capabilities-- a Zen Stone mp3 player, and a digital camera. I have no problem with "silos" as the boss likes to call them, individual devices each for its own discreet function.

If I were a student, however, I think I would appreciate how having all my textbooks on a Kindle or iPad would lighten the load I had to carry each day.

But when I want to read a book --be it for work or pleasure-- I want to hold a run-of-the-mill, tried-and-true codex. It's just simpler.I don't have to subscribe to it or connect to the Internet to access it or recharge the device containing it. I don't have to put earphones on (although I do enjoy listening to an audiobook now and then, sort of like reading with my ears for a change instead of my eyes).

And when I'm reading a book borrowed from a library and some of the pages are a bit worn and dog-eared at the corners, I feel as though I'm holding in my hands something that unknown friends have also cherished. If the binding is a little more (com)pliant than it used to be, it's because previous readers have graciously tucked bits of their thoughts into it.

So I give thanks for the simple codex and for the library network that crisscrosses the region where I live, sending me books on all sorts of subjects, in different languages, and all for free.

But then, I'm just an old librarian.

Is the venerable codex more "rightly ordered" than an iPad? I'd be presumptuous to make such an assertion, I think.

My main concern about the "rightly ordered" nature of these devices centers around the speed at which the next generation of gadget replaces the previous one, coupled with the relative affordability of these devices in more affluent countries, which has already launched a frenzy of acquiring, discarding and reacquiring. I am truly haunted at times by the piles of discarded PC monitors and cell phones I see in my head ...with piles of discarded Kindles and iPads soon to rise in an adjoining dump. Do they also have toxic components to poison the landfills and ground water? Are we going to ship them also to the Philippines and elsewhere, for the children of the poor to pick over and get contaminated? Do they also contain some sort of blood mineral, like coltan?

This is what I worry about most. (Maybe I'm just crazy.)
I'm new here. Thanks for introducing this topic. When I started receiving emails from friends with sign offs "from my ipod," or "from my blackberry," I thought of signing off "from my borg nodule." If we are evolving into a symbiosis with our technology, what effect will that have on us within? I think I find it harder to sink deep into worship if I'm spending a lot of time on the web. I know I have a harder time focusing on the people around me. And yet there are great openings for creativity and solidarity online. I appreciate Marc's comparison with farming. Some of the best people I know are returning to farming.
I think it's allowing us to make connections with more people than we would have ever imagined. Instead of just reading about an event in a newspaper, you can get real time updates about the event from those experiencing it. Just think of the elections in Iran or the earthquake in Haiti. I followed the election from Twitter on my mobile at work. When organizations were asking for aid in Haiti, I donated money by text message. I would have never been able to be so involved in these events if it weren't for this kind of technology. I wouldn't have found this website and all the great people on it without it. I think it's great to let yourself be distracted once in awhile.
I find these two quotations helpful:

“…reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Learn to distinguish between a real psychological need, like cheerful surroundings, and an addiction… Any of the media that you find you cannot do without, get rid of… Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control. Resolves of the will alone are useless in defeating a true addiction. You cannot just decide to be free of it. But you can decide to open this corner of your life to the forgiving grace and healing power of God. You can decide to allow loving friends who know the ways of prayer to stand with you. You can decide to live simply one day at a time in quiet dependence upon God’s intervention. How do you discern an addiction? Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions.”

Richard Foster: Celebration of Discipline

“The Amish adopt technology selectively, hoping that the tools they use will build community rather than harm it. In short, they prefer technology that preserves social capital rather than depletes it… They are more likely to accept new technology for productive purposes, “for making a living,” as they would say, than for consumption and communication. They are adamant in not using media technology to consume the values and images of mass society. That line is non-negotiable… they employ technology cautiously, ever wary of its potential to tatter the social fabric.”

Ronald B Kraybill: The Riddle of Amish Culture

Some thoughts:

Martin: I certainly find the World Wide Web very addictive, and I’m not talking about online poker or pornography, but relative worthy sites like the BBC or, dare I say it, QuakerQuaker. I would rather not have an internet connection at home at all, but it’s becoming increasingly inconvenient to live without one, and I’m not the only one in our household who decides these things anyway. For someone like you, who uses this technology from home “for making a living,” it’s clearly not an option, unless you change your career.

So, if we’re not going to banish the biscuit tin from the house, we need to find a way of using the biscuits responsibly and not wolfing them down at one go. I can think of no better way than Richard Foster’s recommendations of discernment, prayer and prayerful mutual support. Being accountable – to God and each other – about the use of our time is an important part of this (I don’t claim to be very good at it, mind). I’m trying to keep a record of how much time I spend online.

I’m clear, too, that online community is no substitute for face-to-face community. I’m a creature of flesh and blood who lives in a particular place, not an avatar in cyberspace. Part of what it means to be embodied in a particular place is that I develop responsibilities towards others I meet regularly face-to-face which cannot lightly be evaded; I can’t hide behind a pseudonym or flee to another part of the Web.

On the other hand, it’s clear to me that QuakerQuaker opens up enormous possibilities for communication with people from other parts of the world and other strands of Quakerism, communication which is not escapist but helps to deepen my faith and inform my practice through insights that are not available locally. So I’m not about to desert you, but I should probably start to worry if the time I spend on QuakerQuaker exceeds the time I spend with my local Meeting and its members and attenders, or the time I spend in prayer and prayerful offline reading. And unless I can give an account of how I spend my time I can’t easily know whether or not this is the case.

Barbara: No, you are not crazy. When I’m tempted by some new techno-gadget, I think of a waste-dump in Nigeria with barefoot children picking over it and burning off the plastic to get at the metal, because this is often the reality of “recycling” old IT equipment.

There’s a question, too, about what the incredible speed of technological change does to our collective soul. Do we become more and more future-oriented, less able to live simply one day at a time as Foster recommends, less able to listen to or even understand the wisdom of past generations, less concerned about the consequences of our actions because the future is so unimaginable? Or, insofar as we can imagine it, we think of the future is a place so magical that we don’t have to worry about our actions now because they will be put right in the coming utopia? (“Global warming? Get real – technology will deal with it,” &c. &c.)

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