As I write this morning, I hear the fall of rain.
The sound soothes me. It helps me focus. It reminds me of cleansing and renewal.
But I should admit something … The rain isn’t real.
It’s a YouTube video on my TV. I play many such videos. Rain falling on cabins. Mountain rivers. Morning meadows with chirping birds. At night, I play the sound of crickets.
But we all know these can’t compare to the real thing.
Say, when I’m out caught in a downpour with its echoed reverb and pungent smells. Or when I sit by a river, watching water move over rocks, how each droplet sparkles with the sun’s rays. Or when I feel the cling of dew in a meadow, how my heart rises with the melodic call of morning birds. Or when I’m out at twilight among the crickets, how their invisible music stirs me to wonder.
Technology has its uses. We benefit from advances in medicine, from more efficient cars and machines. Smart phones and the internet connect us with an efficiency never before seen. I use technology daily to reach out to others and better understand the world I’m living in.
But, too often, I can mistake it for the real thing — when really, I’m living life secondhand.
When I spend most of my week watching cable news and the politicians I either love or hate. When most of my human engagement is through social media posts, photos and comments. When most of my happiness comes from the latest smartphone app or series on TV. When I care more about sports or celebrity news than about my next-door neighbor … I’m living life secondhand.
It’s an easy mistake to make. These things appear to be real. But they aren’t.
Like too many of us, scripture speaks of those who “serve a copy and shadow of heavenly things.” Likewise, the prophet, Isaiah asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.”
While secondhand living can sustain us for a time, it doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t truly delight. Engaging the world face to face — coming to God without the fabricated filters of our own making — is what our soul needs to truly live.
The philosopher, Albert Borgmann, says: “Technology will be best appropriated, not when it is enclosed in boundaries, but when it is related to a center.” In other words, when we center our lives in what is real, in God and what he’s created, then we can use technology without letting it use us. In the next few columns, I’m going to be discussing some of these “centers.”
In the meantime, relax. There’s nothing wrong with listening to the rain on YouTube.
As long as you don’t neglect the delight of being immersed in a downpour.
John Michalak is a Christian author and speaker. To learn more, visit embracewhatmatters.com.