catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 9 :: 2013.04.26 — 2013.05.09


Backward reactions

During Lent for the past two years, I have not used my computer. It is packed and hidden away in the back of my closet. (Using my computer at work and to manage my finances are exempt for the sake of maintaining employment and being a responsible adult.)  The decision to refrain from using the computer is a decision that affects me, but it is also a decision that inherently impacts others. You have to call me; you cannot communicate with me through mass communication; you cannot e-mail me regardless of the time you remember something; you cannot expect an immediate response when I am at work. As I stepped “backward” into a world without e-mail, Facebook, blogs and Google searches, I posted a notice on Facebook and set-up automatic responses for my e-mail account.  I wanted to be respectful to others in the decision, but was unsure of the responses I would receive. The responses of others usually fell into one of three categories: respect, disbelief or insult.

The response of respect acknowledges the forward motion of such a culturally “backward” practice. These people see my goal of presence and validate the practice to simply be without checking e-mail or what others are doing. These people acknowledge that this choice of mine impacts them and with great consideration call to invite me to events or send me a card after receiving an automatic e-mail reply.  Often their response is tied to a humble and confessional acknowledgement of their use of technology and how boundaries on technology would be a healthy practice in their life as well. For instance, last year I had a friend excitedly call me in response to the automatic e-mail reply asking how to set up such an automatic response and she eagerly learned the details that made it possible to step away from e-mail. I receive these responses with gratitude and leave encouraged to continue on this backward path that I am now walking often.

The response of disbelief stems from an inability to fathom a life without a computer. For these people the exercise seems so impossible to their daily routines, it cannot even be imagined. Though there is sometimes a layer of respect underneath the incredulous remarks, generally this response holds a discrediting, a separation of their story from mine framed within the phrase, “I could never do that.” However, as one who has responded in disbelief to the backward movements of others and seen my own internal response shift to great respect and even backward movements of my own, I receive this response and see it as perhaps a seed planted to grow in time.

The response of insult comes out of a sense of anger that I would choose to do something that is so seemingly and blatantly “backwards.” Those who respond this way become upset with how this decision impacts and inconveniences them. Phone calls in this tone often start off with, “So I needed to call you because you don’t do e-mail anymore…” I receive some phone calls to substitute e-mails, but generally I am told that I will just have to wait to read the anecdote, see the pictures or receive the short e-mail communicating care until I return to using e-mail; they will be waiting whenever I choose to return to the forward world. This anger and insult seems rooted in a deeper form of disbelief that cannot consider my decision as anything but backwards. They see my decision and by extension my personhood contrary to every notion of progress and credibility as an educated adult.  I hope that the response of insult is rooted in a care for my well-being and reason that they likely receive my decision as a perceived affront to their held view of what is forward. I struggle to receive these responses for I feel unknown and different with little space left for dialogue. 

Lent now has ended and I am using my computer. The people who responded with respect will sometimes reference these backward seasons with the same continued respect or initiate a thoughtful conversation regarding technology’s impact on our lives. Those who responded with disbelief have probably largely forgotten such a strange experiment, though I suspect they may continue to view me as a bit odd, unsure of how to interpret such a practice within the context of who else they know me to be. Those who responded with insult have returned to previous ways of communicating via e-mail and seem to wait fearfully, bracing themselves for my next backward movement, whatever that may be. And I know my backward movements will continue, for I taste the richness unexpected along this path and am excited to discover new forward paths and invite others along this road. 

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