I'm at a consultation where the philosopher Albert Borgmann is speaking on technology and faith. Below is how I interacted with his thought in Say Yes to No:
One of the best steps to a healthy spiritual rhythm is to remember what you love to do and to do it.
Help for our imprisonment to our techie toys can come from unexpected places. At least it did for me. I first really began to engage in this topic when I was invited to a consultation with Albert Borgmann. Professor Borgmann represents an unusual type of professional philosopher—the kind who brings together running in the mountains of Montana with analyzing Martin Heidegger’s weighty (and largely incomprehensible) philosophical tome, Being and Time. In March 2001, I was invited to a consultation with Borgmann on science, technology and its effect on contemporary life. This bright-eyed, ebullient seventy-something has developed a powerful concept, a “focal practice.” What is it? “Focal” is derived from the Latin word for “hearth,” the focus, in the Roman world, where the family met for cooking, for warming the house, for conversing. Today instead we punch in the numbers for the digital thermostat; my daughters codes the microwave for her quesadillas at 5:45, I “nuke” Lean Cuisine at 6:20, and my wife warms pasta at 6:40. And it’s possible for no one to eat together. In the early days of TV, we at least used to sit together and watch Jackie Gleason in the Honeymooners. Now each member in a house has a separate monitor on a different cable channel or DVD. Borgmann says that our technology—which we believe has simplified life so that we could spend time together—actually draws us apart. But focal practices draw us to our true selves. They draw us together. He counsels the use of focal practices with the questions, “Would you rather be doing something else right now?” If so, you are not engaged in focal practices.
A focal practice is something of ultimate concern and significance, which is often masked by technology’s appeal. It must be preserved by its connection with actually doing it. Borgmann puts it this way: “Focal things require a practice to prosper within.” His examples include music, gardening, long-distance running, and “the culture of the table” (meaning taking more time than simply nuking leftovers or driving up to Jack-in-the-Box). These examples are often plain and inconspicuous, in contrast to the awe-inspiring things on which our ancestors were focused, such as temples and cathedrals. Borgmann adds a note of realism that technology seduces: “Countering technology through a practice is to take account of our susceptibility to technological distraction, and it is also to engage the peculiarly human strength of comprehension, i.e. the power to take in the world in its extent and significance and to respond through an enduring commitment.” Translated: it’s not easy to do. We even resist it. It’s easy to plop down with our kids in front of a TV, call for pizza delivery and watch Lord of the Rings on video. And sometimes that’s a great idea. But when technology single-handedly sets the agenda, we lose the key rhythms of life.