The lie became possible with technology. If COVID 19 has happened thirty years ago, we would not have had the option of online classes. But because we have entered the age of the screen, the presumption underneath our technology is that the screens can replace in person activity. The permanence of the temporary (which is the digital or virtual reality which the internet provides) has changed how we think of ourselves and how we deal with others. From the ever present smartphones to the computers and screens that replace typewriters, file cabinets, and copiers, we have bought into the premise that technology not only replaces in person interaction but improves upon it.
People do not need to go to the office; they can work from home and be as productive and happy at home as they might have been in an office building. We do not need personal contact; the screen suffices. Thus we are freed from the daily commute, from the cost of central hubs or headquarters, and from the need to provide good work environments. Instead we can simply add in a small monthly stipend to provide a more ergonomic chair or high speed internet or whatever else an employee needs to do his or her work at home. At first people seemed to love it -- delighting in wearing a good shirt or blouse over their sleep pants or leggings so that they look good for the Zoom meeting or facetime interaction. Then when working from home was complicated by having to take care of children or by a loneliness that no screen could answer and it has been made worse by the need to assist the children with their online lessons. Suddenly the reality is not as great as the hype but we have locked ourselves into the lie. How long will it take for us to realize and admit that online and in person are not the same?
What we believed about the workplace has become and even more sacred truth of education. It was already beginning long before COVID. Everyone from colleges to seminaries were wondering if it might be cheaper and easier to educate people at home on their screens. We gave all sorts of justifications for at home and online classes but under them all was the presumption that watching the screen was the same or almost the same as in person schooling. Then COVID shut down colleges and schools and seminaries and we were captive to the screen -- not by choice but without our choice. We limped through the end of last year online and now have decided that in many places and for many schools we have no choice. Now we are left to make the best of things and reliant upon technology. It remains to be seen if colleges and universities can continue to charge a premium dollar for what is anything but a premium education. It also remains to be seen if we are doing our children a favor or a grave disservice by replacing in person instruction with online replacement. Time will tell but we are generally agreed that preschool and the first years of elementary education cannot be replaced by the screen. It will certainly further the divisions between the apt and those who struggle in school as well as the great divide between the haves and the have nots.
Not to mention, the ever popular idea that worship need not be in person and that online church is an adequate replacement for sitting in the pew. If you have read here before, you know my feelings on that subject. Some pastors are pumped up by statistics of how many outside their own congregations are watching but underneath the statistics is another set that is not so exciting. Many people do, indeed, take a glance at religious content but few of those watch the entire video and most of them stick around for a few moments before clicking on to find other interests.
It is one thing to depend upon technology in time of crisis when you have no choice but it is quite another to presume and invite technology to replace face to face contact. The lies we have told ourselves will come home to roost sooner or later. It will be up to us to admit the lies we have told ourselves are, indeed, lies, and to confront those lies with truth. At least I hope that is what will happen.