Sawing through the tether

My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.

Andrew Sullivan, ‘I Used to Be a Human Being’.

I have an iPhone 4S.  Five years ago this was not a bad thing to have.  Today it draws pitying glances, as friends wonder why my technology is so far behind the curve.

I have an iPhone 4S and five years ago I didn’t need it.  It wooed me, of course, that summer.  Taught me that plastic Nokia keyboard would not be missed, that tiny webpages could be a thing of the past.  And its beauty charmed me and day by day I became captive to its trance.

I became, I knew, a tethered self, with technology my umbilical cord.  Six years before it had been Facebook and now it was the iPhone.  Convenience at fingertips.  No need anymore to print off a map and, at traffic lights, peer blindly for directions.  No need to watch the 6 o’clock news.  And sudden, overwhelming yet manufactured need always to know the weather ahead.

iTechnology got me into Feedly and, before it, Google Reader.  It nearly sucked me into Twitter until I realised what those 140 characters were making me become.  And my reading habits changed.  I blamed the PhD, of course.  Because writing on ecclesial leadership meant keeping a finger on the popular pulse, the bloggers and tweeters as much as ivory-tower thinkers.  And so, like Sullivan, I became occupied so insistently by so many different subjects.

In those years since I have felt the pull.  A pull to be more, to know more, to say more.  From being merely occupied with the subjects, I have felt pressure to hold forth on them.  Pressure to move from private occupation to public.  But there were so many of them.  And I knew so little.  And so mostly I stayed quiet.  Hid in my little corner of the web and spoke only on what I knew, to the few.  Resisted the urge to broadcast.  Sometimes.

I have been becoming, I know, a tethered self and five years ago, as it began, I called it.  For four months later I would step into hallowed space, the silence and emptying of sabbatical.  And I knew that tether must be sliced lest it change my identity.

I did it then, that fasting thing.  Left iPhone in drawer all day until night.  Carried pay-as-you-go brick to be available in emergency and checked iPhone only once in the day.  I left Facebook behind and denied slavery to e-mail.  In my words then:

I don’t want to live at internet hyper-speed anymore.  I don’t want my information skimming to leak into relational skimming.  I don’t want to be constantly struggling to stay on top of the flow of mostly-irrelevant information which nevertheless demands a hearing if only to confirm its irrelevance.

Instead I want to be a self in relationship with God and others.

Nothing has changed, friends.  Nothing has changed.

Except perhaps that I am now more slave than I was.  For five years of habituation are not negligible.  Five years of apps and addictive e-mail and Facebook checking are not nothing in the formation of a soul.  My passion for GTD, the practice of optimising one’s time and output, has not been assuaged.  Rather it has become more compulsive as tools at fingertips have made GTD rhythms ever more open to enhancement.

And so I feel it stirring again, this wondering.  For who am I when untethered?  What kind of spirituality might I embody when free of the chains, chains of productivity and of unhealthy bondage to holographic self-presentation in virtual world where real is only relative and truth sometimes mirage?  What would it take to unwind the chains, if only for a season, and would I have courage to go this far?

I am seriously thinking about it, you know.  Sawing through the tether, because the time for slicing is gone.

In the next twelve months my life may so arrange itself that this could be a possibility.  And I am scared that, if I don’t take the chance when it is given, I may never again assert my mastery over that which has made me slave.  It was hard five years ago.  But now the odds are more stacked than ever.  And if I do not prevail then that umbilical tether may prove only source of life.

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