Learning to live in an always-online world
Author pens book based on 30-day fast from modern technology
TORONTO, ON—Author Christina Crook is giving voice to culture’s growing unease and anxiety born out of living in an always on-line world.
Her book, The Joy of Missing Out, chronicles her own unease and eventual fast from technology and what she discovered about living without the internet and digital communication.
The response to the book has been immediate and incredible, with major media outlets hosting Crook, including a TED talk.
Crook says it all began with these “gnawing moments,” a suspicion she wasn’t connecting with everyone in her life since social media and smart phones became ubiquitous.
“The people that weren’t online, I wasn’t putting the effort into connecting with,” she says. Instead, “I’m only seeing snapshots on social media of their lives, and I’m only providing snapshots myself.”
So she took a drastic step.
“I felt the need to step back,” Crook says. “So I went offline for 30 days.”
The first few days were what she expected: withdrawal, the frustration of communicating through letters, losing the ease of self-editing on a computer, the sluggish mailing system.
“But I had to let it go,” she says.
As she settled into an analogue life, she was surprised by what she found.
“I settled into this awesome stage, I was loving it,” Crook says. “My head was clear, I could write, I found these windows of time while the kids were napping or at the park, I was doing things I felt I never had time for. I did have the time, I was just usually on Facebook.”
During her fast she found plenty of ways to entertain herself, but in more meaningful ways. Writing letters to friends, giving conversations her full, undivided attention, being fully aware of the beauty of the natural world; all things we miss when we pull out our phone, she says.
Crook began to discover how interwoven these technologies have become in our lives and society. She missed out on church events organized online through social media, because no one remembered to let her know in person.
However, Crook says going offline completely was easier than trying to strike a balance between real life and screen time, yet a tension many people must learn to navigate.
“Maybe Jesus would’ve been offline, but I think he would be on Twitter,” she says, a service handy for staying connected with a large audience. “There are ways to intentionally use technology to bless others.”
As a Christian it’s about asking the right questions, Crook says.
“Is this helping me minister to others, or creating an arms length distance? There are things that are hard to say in person,” Crook says. “But as Christians we are called to hard things.”
While our gadgets make life easy, Crook says it’s the difficulty that makes anything meaningful, whether it’s writing a book, running a marathon, raising children or meeting someone in person rather than sending a text message.
The struggle is not restricted by age, as teens and adults are adopting smart phones at the same time.
“Kids struggle not to text in school, adults struggle not to text in the board room,” she says.
It’s a strange time for everyone as the western world shifts to an always-on culture. Coming from a background in communication theory and studying the works of media theorists like Marshall McLuhan, Crook isn’t surprised the shift in technology is changing behaviour.
“Deep down, we know something is up,” Crook says. It may be the reason her book has struck such a chord with readers. It comes down to her message that living online and creating picture-perfect Facebook personas isn’t living in light of God’s design.
“We are called to be human and honest so people don’t feel alone,” she says. “We have to be the most real people. God made us with skin in a beautiful world, our primary space to be in.”
“We are wired and designed to connect face to face, to read body language, that’s really living in light of our design,” Crook says.
It doesn’t mean she advises everyone to fast from the internet or throw away their smart phones, but rather being aware of their technology use. If you feel you’re spending too much time online, take a weekly sabbath from the computer.
It’s an important, and at times difficult, practice Crook has had to learn, even when neck deep in marketing her book.
“It’s not about abstaining, but about focusing attention on other things,” Crooks says. “We are called to have no other gods. Take a break, put technology back in its right place.”
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