Saturday, May 21, 2011

One Post-Modern Christian Quandary

I have some money I haven't yet spent from my birthday in April. I had thought I would buy luggage with it, but now I have decided to buy books. Big surprise, right? I usually buy books when I have discretionary funds, so I was trying to be different. Since it's birthday money, I get to spend it on what delights me. I went to the store and thought about buying luggage. Books won.

My dad has a Kindle. It has been a godsend for him. He is legally blind and his Kindle enables him to use a more helpful font and background. He struggled to read for years before our church gave him this tool. He is once again devouring books. I love when he starts telling us now about 'this book you really need to read'. He has a discerning mind and has introduced us to some good ones in the year or so since he got his Kindle.

I'm thankful for Dad's Kindle, but I don't really want one myself or for the kids. I don't know why. I tell the kids we collect real books so that when the grid fails, we can be like the monks in the Dark Ages with their rooms of forgotten scrolls and codexes. Ha.

I am only half joking. I really do want us to have a large physical library of great books. (I also want us to read them.) Whenever I begin planning the next school year, I am sad that I don't have enough money to buy a physical book for every title on the Ambleside list. For purely practical reasons, if the book is available online for free, we use the online version. We simply cannot buy every book, and we would skip more books if they weren't available for free online. I am very thankful for the online books. But the digitization bothers me. I can't put my finger on why.

(I also want to confess that I do not take care of books reverently. I am hard on books. The ones I refer to often will most likely be frayed, missing a cover, pages falling out. I ended up losing an entire middle section of my first copy of my all-time favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I reread that paperback copy for years, narrating to myself the missing section when I came to it. I do now own a complete copy, as well as an audio version that a good friend sent me this year.)

Aravis and I got smartphones this year. What a boon to have so much information in our pockets! We were gone from home most afternoons, and in bits of free time I could access an email or look up a curriculum or book or article, and then, without pause, continue my process of taking care of a situation or thinking about a decision to be made. I never had to sit down and stop in the middle of an issue. I could take care of things and Move On.

This reminds me of teaching the kids math. One thing I LOVE about homeschooling is that when a concept is fuzzy to the student, we can just sit on the concept for awhile-- either by going over it for a couple of weeks instead of a couple of days, or by letting it simmer for awhile, unresolved, while we move on to an unrelated concept. Then we can hit it again, unconcerned that we are going over material already learned by the rest of the class.

But I didn't have to sit on anything this year. I had my phone. I didn't even have to be bored unless I forgot to charge the thing. I could read books on my phone. Funny, though, I didn't read books. I mostly surfed around when I used my phone for Internet. Book-reading online is very hard for me. There is so much other stuff to click on.

Anyway, we had these smartphones, and increasingly spent our time away from home with our phones in front of our faces. We tried hard to refrain when we were with others, but even in conversation we found ways to use them.

We got rid of our smartphones last week. We bought old-fashioned (!) clamshell phones with no Internet access. Yesterday I left the house at 5:30 am with my clamshell and spent the entire day until 11pm outside of the house with no Internet access. I missed it. All day I thought of things to look up and then remembered I had no cyber-brain to access. Weird. I hadn't realized I was so dependent on the thing.

I won't tell you about the foul hacking job that caused us to accelerate our decision to revert to clamshells. I'll just say teach your kids to bounce their eyes (and hearts, but this was really more about eyes). We just can't escape from some of the horrible stuff in this world. Aravis and I are still reeling. When we tried to figure out how to fix it, we found out it would cost MORE money to make sure something so terrible wouldn't happen again. We had no business paying for two data plans anyway, with our financial goals of getting out of debt, home schooling the children, etc. We had to pay $50 for new phones in order to not have data plans anymore. Those smartphones had been free. The telecom version of a gateway drug. We could have gotten the clamshells for free if we had been willing to enslave ourselves renew our contracts for another two years. Grr.

But how do we integrate these technologies into our lives as children of God? I'm sure you have noticed that it was money and offensive content that caused Aravis and I to switch back, not the high moral idea of being more gracious and hospitable to the people around us, nor the alarming thought that our minds were becoming fragmented. I'm not even sure what to think about the 'minds being fragmented' thing, because I have seen so much benefit from the Internet where school is concerned. It can be a very, very good thing. (In fact, one of my children has been able to move forward in math this year using an online, animated, interactive math program. I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't found it this year. We were at wit's end. Now I read that she is probably not processing the concepts through the hippocampus. Well, she wasn't integrating the knowledge using a textbook and live teacher either.) I am not sure of the cost in neurodevelopment where smartphones are concerned. I'm not saying smartphones are Evil. I'm just saying that, personally, we didn't honorably integrate them into our lives.

Among the books I am purchasing with my birthday money is one by Nicholas Carr-- The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Cindy read this awhile back and I'd like to get my hands on it. I already have Amusing Ourselves to Death, which is mainly about television, and Endangered Minds (oops, I didn't mean Endangered Minds, I meant Failure to Connect-- both books are by Jane Healy), which contains more questions than answers about our minds and the cyberworld.

That's what I have: more questions than answers. And I just can't bring myself to purchase something nebulous like an e-book unless I absoluately have to. Computers crash and electricity goes out and batteries die. Evildoers infiltrate. Then "they" want more money so you can access your stuff or use it safely.

So here I sit, writing a blog post on how my heart rebels at the thought of purchasing e-books and my current despising of smartphones. I'll tell you the cloud of online experiences that brought me to this blog post this morning:

I started out this morning on Amazon, purchasing my books. In the process, I wondered if I might have enough money in the school fund to purchase Lost Tools of Writing, which is our number one curriculum purchase for next year. (As in, no matter what else falls off the budget, science, math, whatever, we are buying this. First.) I went to the Circe Institute website and found an article called, "Why Bother With Books?" which fit right in with the thoughts I had when I decided which books to buy on Amazon this morning. Reading the article reminded me of Cindy's blog post, "Homeschooling in the Shallows," and our new clamshells and my dad's Kindle that has been such a blessing and how I don't want to purchase e-books. So now I am writing this post instead of purchasing my books or checking the price of LTW. You see how it is?

How do we fit these technologies into our lives without losing our purpose? Or did the application of my purpose actually expand this morning through the use of the Internet? Erg.

In case you are wondering, here are the other books I decided to purchase. I am not pre-reading these for school. They are just for me:

*Is God a Moral Monster? and When God Goes to Starbucks, both by Paul Copan, a Christian philosopher that Dad recently introduced to me, and

*The Student Whisperer by Oliver deMille, which was recommended by a fellow AO mom. I'll grant that this one is related to school. I could be wrong, but it sounds more like One University Student's Experience, rather than a how-to book.


Javamom said...

I'm with you on this, Katie. I do love how you included the obvious benefits for you Dad into your thoughts and writing. Exellent points!

My eyes hurt after being in front of a screen for research, educational, and even for keeping up with family and friends. After years of depending on the computer screen to help with those things, and including co-op class e-mails and grading, I know my eyes have gotten incredibly worse.

Only our grown kids #1 and #3 have smart phones. The rest of us don't want them, for many and many of the reasons you listed!

Katie said...

Aravis has the same problem with her eyes when using the computer.

I also want to read Tim Challies' book, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion. Next go 'round, perhaps.