Over the past several weeks, I’ve been editing essays for an interesting new book about youth ministry and technology. (I’m sure our friend Claire will let you know when it’s available later this fall.) The various authors are examining the seismic cultural shift occurring because of the pervasiveness of technology and its effect on youth ministry. They’re writing about technology and how it relates to communication, worship, boundaries (or lack thereof), conflict, and generational differences. As a result of this editing project, I’ve been thinking about technology as it relates to patience.
I like to think of myself as a patient person. I’m a GenXer who comes from a long line of Kansas farmers (even though I don’t even plant a garden). But I did learn the associated lessons along the way: always save for a rainy day; good things (e.g. the harvest) always take time; if it can be fixed, you don’t need a new one yet; etc. In other words, I learned that patience is a virtue.
Now when it comes to major purchases, I am definitely patient. I do research, shop around, worry about the cost, justify the purchase to myself, shop around some more, and then buy … maybe. My wife of almost one year has a very different approach. She might wake up one morning and decide it’s time to buy a new car and buy it that afternoon. (She actually did that once!) To be fair, she’s not that impulsive, and has usually been thinking about the purchase for a while, but our styles are quite different.
But last weekend, we reversed roles. I impulsively bought a new computer without my usual “process.” Apparently, my farmer-inspired virtue doesn’t run all that deep! When the salesperson suggested I could save a significant amount of money by waiting two weeks for a special “tax-free” day, I couldn’t do it. I had to have it … right then. I couldn’t wait another day, let alone two weeks! So what was that all about?!
At the risk of stating the obvious — we live in a world of instant gratification. While technology didn’t cause this NOW existence, technology definitely feeds it. When we have a question, we just go online NOW and find an answer (and sometimes, it’s even correct). We expect our email or phone call or text to be answered NOW. After all, it isn’t like we have to wait for our important communication to be hand-delivered by the mail carrier! We hate to wait, whether it’s being on hold (“Your call is very important to us.”) or in line at the grocery store. We want it NOW, NOW, NOW!
While this NOW condition affects us all, the current generation of Millennials is especially immersed in it. After all, they’ve never lived in a world where it can take some effort (research) or an actual conversation with another human being to find the answers to questions. They’ve never lived in a world without voicemail or answering machines — where you have to call back if someone isn’t home to answer the phone. They’ve never lived in a world where you have to wait days or weeks for a letter to get to your friend before they write back.
So one of the challenges for young people (for all of us, really) in our sped up, technology-driven existence is to practice patience. Slow down and breathe deeply. Take pleasure in the process. Make time to be quiet. Turn off the phone, the computer, the iPod. WAIT. It isn’t easy … especially in our hurry up, NOW world. But … “they that wait upon the Lord (i.e. are patient), shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Is 40:31)
By David Schoeni
Loving God, Loving Neighbor