Tuesday, July 07, 2009

a vacation from technology?

We often take a part of our summer vacation at Lake Junaluska, which is in the mountains of western North Carolina, about 30 minutes west of Asheville and 2.5 hours north of Atlanta. We have a small cabin here, and for better or worse we have fallen into the routine of coming here at this time of year. A part of the appeal is the elevation (about 3000 feet above sea level), and the cooler temperatures, at least in contrast to the city. Another is the simplicity. And another is the change to re-connect with friends in the area.

The gradual omnipresence of electronic media has forced me to make decisions about which ones I will take part in, on vacation, and which ones I will avoid. I have not arrived at a perfect solution, but for now this is the practice: on vacation I do not read e-mail. I know I miss some personal correspondence, but the implication of participating in e-mail is that I am in the flow of administrative work. When I am in Charlotte, I usually read email before 7:30 in the morning (but always after a Psalm, Facebook and coffee), and I generally look at email as late as 9:00 in the evening. In that time I am rarely away from email for more than an hour during the day. So it is quite a detachment to set aside email on vacation.

This summer we are involved in a "Psalms in The Summer" project (see recent posts on this blog, or follow us at twitter/summerpsalms. I generally distill a Psalm in the morning and evening into 140 characters, and at the moment over 250 folks are following this. I also receive these into my cell phone, along with a few other posts: from Andrew Conard, Amy Forbus, Jay Voorhees, Peter Wallace, The Wesley Report, NPR Politics, Nicholas Kristof and a couple from friends in the church. I must also confess that I receive posts from Shaq.

I got into Facebook via our daughters, and I will also admit that the first thing I look for is a post from them. I think, as a parent, there is something wonderful about seeing their faces, especially given that one is in China and one in Atlanta. I do not spend a lot of time on Facebook, and don't participate in the tests or games, which are quite fine, but I am interested in what my friends are doing. Like most experiences in our culture, it seems to be a media that the baby boomers have entered into and overwhelmed---like contemporary worship services designed initially for young adults.

My participation on Facebook and Twitter is very similar on vacation and in daily life, which is to say, minimal: a few minutes (or even moments) in the morning, a few at mid-day, a few in the evening.

Inevitably, a vacation from technology (or at least significant participation in it) leaves more time for reading longer works, which is of course the critique of the web. I generally put aside reading material that I want to get to in the summer, and work my way through it. I have just finished Robert Benton's The Echo Within and Ron Rash' Serena, and have been dabbling in Beldon Lane's The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, the latter a very serious reflection on deserts, mountains and wilderness that requires close attention. I also recently met Gary Shockley at a stewardship event, picked up his The Meandering Way, and read it, marveling at how closely many of our experiences parallel each other (a new church, education in discernment, times in life when we were overextended). Some of the reading will find its way into sermons in the fall and winter, but this is more by-product than intention.

I should finally say that I do have a system for responding to pastoral and personal calls. I am available, although others during these days are more present to these needs. I have often returned home early for a memorial service, and have spoken to friends in our church, in the middle of vacation, about marital difficulty or the suicide of a family member. I quickly add that this is not a burden. I find that there persons continue to be a part of my prayer life, even as I am away.

The fact that I am writing this on a personal computer and posting it on my blog and on Facebook is an indication that I am somewhat wired, even on vacation, and this is by choice. But the engagement is different: it is mostly selective attention to friends and family, and finds its expression as reflection on the day's experience. When I return, the remainder of it will be waiting for me, finally released from the purgatory of cyberspace, awaiting some kind of response.


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