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Log off during Lent to rediscover the sounds of silence

My need for silence started a couple of years ago after a long day at the office. The radio was blaring and my head was throbbing, so I just turned the car radio off.

After hours of long phone calls, noisy meetings, even my favorite music playing in the background, I needed some quiet time.

It took a few minutes, but the gradual effects were noticeable. No longer pounded by interruption advertising and inane DJ banter, I started to relax. The sound waves from the radio faded into other space. The only audible sounds were the hum of the engine and the harmonic tones of the tires on the pavement. Soon those sounds were replaced by the closing of the garage door and the sweet melodies of backyard songbirds.

In the silence I could hear my own thoughts again, unencumbered by the media messages that pelted my consciousness throughout the day.

E-mails, voice mails, Blackberrys, blogs. Facebook, e-book, hypertext and Twitter logs. Useful is technology, but it sometimes gets the best of me.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his recent World Day of Communications address, said that new technology, such as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, helps facilitate our “fundamental desire” to communicate. These sites can foster friendships and understanding, but he warns that “obsessive” virtual socializing can isolate people from real interaction and deepen the digital divide by excluding those already marginalized.

Christianity Today’s senior managing editor Mark Galli shared a similar sentiment in a recent online article. He wrote that while Facebook “facilitates broad connectivity, I believe it does so at the expense of intimacy. Intimacy is what we really want. But because we are lazy and fearful creatures, we’ll settle for connectivity, because connectivity suggests intimacy but without all the bother.”

Put aside the sexual connotations of “intimacy” that our culture uses on a daily basis. Instead, think of the close, personal relationships you have with family and friends—people who know how you think, accept you for who you are and relate to you in terms you both understand.

I like Facebook. It’s a fun tool to connect with friends and classmates, share photos, read their lists of 25 random facts about themselves or finally learn what really happened on that Spring Break trip two decades ago.

But it’s also a powerful attention grabber and a malicious time sucker. It’s no replacement for the intimacy shared by good friends or the kitchen-table talks we have with family members.

Instead of talking face-to-face, people are chatting in cyberspace.

The dangers of social isolation through the media and modern technology are illustrated in three popular films:

In the future according to Pixar, Wall•E depicts 29th century men and women as inactive, fatty blobs who don’t use any muscles. Centuries ago they left Earth on a large space cruise ship so that robots could clean up the trash and make the planet habitable again. While the humans wait, they sip gallons of liquid nourishment, ride around on hover machines and talk to other people only through video screens.

One day a robot named Wall•E hops a ride on a rocket and boards the space cruiser. Through fortunate misadventures, Wall•E causes trouble and forces people to stand up and talk to each other – face-to-face. He saves the day in more ways than one.

In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) is the unwitting and unknowing star of a non-stop TV show that chronicles his entire life from birth to the end. Truman’s house, hometown, his friends, family, job, recreation—his whole life—is fabricated for the benefit of the TV show. Everyone he interacts with is an actor playing a role. They advance the plot, pitch products, even introduce new girlfriends to increase the show’s ratings.

One day Truman sees clues that his universe is not quite what he thought. He rebels against the show and tries to escape. Christof (Ed Harris) the director tries his best to keep Truman imprisoned in the artificial world, to disastrous results.

Unlike Truman, Eddie Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) is a normal guy who agrees to become the star of a 24-hour reality TV show in the film EdTV. Cameramen follow him around town documenting his every move, recording every word. Ed enjoys the limelight and the popularity, but soon realizes that the omnipresent media is ruining his family and any chance of a normal relationship with his girlfriend Shari (Jenna Elfman).

Ed eventually finds an ally in his producer (Ellen Degeneres) and they plot a way out of the show and an end to the watchful eyes and ears of the media.

Today, with the media playing such an omnipresent role in our culture, it’s tough to escape, clear one’s head and find time to pray—in order to develop and strengthen our intimate relationship with God.

The upcoming season of Lent is a great time to start enjoying the silence.

Unplug, disconnect, log off the Internet. Spend this Lent in solitude, listening to God with certitude.


First published in the February 20, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2009 Christopher Fenoglio.

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