I recently received a fascinating e-mail reply to a message I had sent to a friend teaching at Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen in Austria. It was one of those prewritten messages that the mail software sends off automatically once it receives a message during a specific time period. This is what it said: “Thank you for your e-mail. Our availability from May 13 to 17, 2013, is limited because of a project of Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen called ‘ECGO—[German abbreviation for] A Campus Goes Offline.’ By means of this project we want to motivate students and employees to reflect on responsible usage of modern instruments of communication.”
For five days an entire school campus went offline—I was intrigued. Can you imagine five days without e-mails, text messages, tweets, Facebook updates, news from your favorite news outlet, or your preferred TV programs?
Increasingly we live more online than in the real world. Need to buy some supplements, a computer, or running shoes? Go to the online store of your favorite e-tailer, and you’ll be able to find anything your heart may desire (and often even at better prices than in the brick-and-mortar stores). Have you noticed that people waiting for an appointment in the doctor’s office look at their hands—or better, the smartphones or tablets they’re holding in their hands? No eye contact, little (if any) conversation—just me and my smartphone. We keep track of hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of Facebook friends who tell us about an extraordinary café latte or the color of a sweater they are wearing today.* We have become news junkies who need to know right now what’s currently happening in China or Timbuktu or the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. I find myself pulling out my smartphone when it vibrates—even when I am in the middle of listening to a wonderful sermon. The vibration speaks of urgency and immediacy.
“A Campus Goes Offline” is a wonderful idea that could be replicated individually or in our families and churches. How many hours a day do we spend connected or online? Can you imagine the time we would suddenly have if the computer stays off for a day or two or five? (I would not be able to do most of my work, which would mean that you wouldn’t receive your copy of the Adventist Review.) What would happen if we would turn off our phones for 24 hours (or longer)?
Well, we would be able to visit a friend in person. We could write one of those old-fashioned paper letters without LOL, FYI, ASAP, or any other abbreviation, walk to the post office, and mail it to a friend who needs encouragement. In church we could truly listen to one another as we study Scripture together instead of looking at our devices and following our agendas. Instead of always saying “I am busy” to our children we could plan a day hike (or an evening stroll) with the family. The possibilities are unlimited (and no, I am not suggesting that modern communication tools are evil; I am busy writing on one right now!).
I have decided to go offline more often. I need to walk away more frequently from the sounds and vibes of modern communication and entertainment so that I can discover again the still soft voice that God loves using when communicating with His children. I need to retrain my ears and my eyes to enjoy solitude or the immediacy of the people around me. So next time you send me an e-mail or a text message or a letter, you may have to wait a bit longer for a response. I may be busy listening.
* For truth’s sake I need to confess that I am not on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, or any other social network. We also do not have a TV or cable at home—but we do have a very fast fiber optics connection.