Facing the Chaos of Digital Noise

Plants vs. Zombies on the iPadBoth of my kids have an Ipod Touch. My son is six-years-old. My daughter is ten. Grandparents bought the toys.

Although this small computer is much more complicated than a bin of Legos, it presents the same problem: Anything is possible on the tiny screen. It is a window into a magical abstract world of downloadable games and even the Internet itself. We have disabled both of these features, but our kids still know that they exist. They bring me the device on the couch and ask me to take them to the iTunes store like we are headed on an outing. We shop for Angry Birds and Fruit Ninjas. We buy Plants and Zombies and cops in Hot Pursuit of robbers. We even have several Lego apps. Many of his elementary school friends received the same Christmas gift.

Like my kids, I marvel at the possibilities this device presents. Like my kids, I can’t resist a good car chase. When the world feels too much with us, we have a new tool to fight over-seriousness!

It makes me nervous, though. Plants vs. Zombies delights us, but what does it teach? I  have told my kids that the game acts out the struggle between life and death, the Garden vs. the Fall, but they are skeptical, annoyed that I’m trying to turn another game into a learning opportunity.

I’m not sure every moment of life needs to be a lesson, but I refuse to be tired of epiphanies.

When the whole world seems like a joke full of shallow memes, some people throw up their hands and join the chaos. God is dead, they figure, so why expect any more epiphanies? They are like technophiles who find meaning in the form of technology itself, the language it produces, and the belief that truth may be as disposable as last season’s smartphones.

Technophobia isn’t the answer though. As much as I reject the despair at the heart of much flarf and snark, I understand where it is coming from. Technology is changing so fast. It would be easy to go the other extreme and reject it completely. The noise is too loud, so we could turn it off. We could throw out our televisions and disconnect our broadband, but this doesn’t feel like an acceptable answer for my family.

God calls us to be in the world, not of it. He calls us to participate in culture, without worshipping culture. For this reason, my family has decided to enter into the pain of technology. It’s a ridiculous high-end martyrdom to lose pieces of ourselves into these devices, but what choice do we have? Call us technobivalent. We need to understand the world around us if we expect to engage with it in a meaningful way.

You might say we are all commissioned into the world of technology. I’m not helping my children if I deny the increasingly important role of connectivity in the average person’s daily life and work.

If we are going to sort this big pile of information into anything that makes sense, everyone needs to be part of the effort. Already applications like Pulse are helping people who use Android or iPhone. This elegant application “makes reading news fun and engaging.” I use it daily to skim the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, FastCompany, and the high calling network of 1700 Christian bloggers to name a few. Pulse adds order and structure to a chaotic pile of information.

I even presorts news into categories like business, entertainment, politics, news and analytics, and science.

As much as I love the application, I can’t help noticing the missing category: religion. This is what happens when people of faith refuse to participate. When we withdraw from culture, when we boycott technology, when we keep our epiphanies to ourselves, the world around us forgets what real epiphany looks like.

Poetry is more than flarf, but the best flarf leads us to epiphany. Technology is more than mindless games, but the best games teach us something about what it means to be human. It’s a fine line to walk. If we aren’t playful participants, this emphasis on meaning and teaching becomes didactic and arrogant.

If we are going to help people catch glimpses of God in these new worlds of the 21st Century, we must enter into the chaos and play with them there.

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