Opportunities or Threats?

Things will never be the same! Well … they never were.

I’m not talking about the events unfolding in many parts of the world right now – that will be the subject of more posts. I am reflecting on a Facebook post by my friend Dr. Sadegh Namazikhah which lists “Ten Things That Will Disappear in Our Lifetime

I recommend that you click on the link and read the whole set, with descriptions and commentary. But, for reference, here’s the ten:

  1. The Post Office
  2. The Check
  3. The Newspaper
  4. The Book
  5. The Land-Line Telephone
  6. Music
  7. Television Revenues
  8. The “Things” That You Own
  9. Joined Handwriting (Cursive Writing)
  10. Privacy

The list impresses me as pretty perceptive. Some are obvious. Some will be sorely missed, lamented, and perhaps even fought for.

The real question, I think, is how do we let go of the old and embrace the new while maintaining the values that are often deeply embedded in the ways and technologies that are passing away.

Strategic planning, I think, gives us some tools, both personal and communal, that may be able to help deal with change.

One of the steps needed to begin strategic planning is environmental scanning, also called a SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. Strengths and weaknesses refer to internal qualities; opportunities and threats, on the other hand, are seen in our external environment.

In Christian spirituality, the SWOT analysis can be a way of describing what Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius calls “an examination of consciousness” – a central element of prayer in which we look not just at our faults and sins, but concentrate on all aspects of our lives and where God is working in them.

I put up the following comment to Dr. Namazikhah’s post:

There are positive values and significant dangers in each one of these. As more and more of our lives depend on electronic communication and data storage rather than physical stuff, energy and material resources can be used more efficiently or we can just develop new ways of being frivolous and wasteful. In all human history, privacy has never been a value, nor even a possibility. It’s a product of modern individualism, which can be destructive of community. In all this, we need to discover new ways to embody and express relationships and commitments, mutuality and interdependence. There are new freedoms here that can be greedily misused or exercised responsibly.

In a sense, I’m living the world of those ten disappearing things right now. In just 170 days I’m stepping into retirement, and will live in drastically smaller quarters.  I’m seeking to divest myself of much of the “stuff” I’ve accumulated (and treasured) over that past half century or so. I have many cherished books, photos and musical recordings (both CDs and vinyl discs), which I’m trying to sort through and keep as much as I can in a digital format. I’ve come to realize that there’s no need to save what is readily available online, which I’m finding is about 90% of the stuff I’d like to keep. Not only does the iPhone replace the land-line phone (duh!) but it’s also a multifaceted tool for storing and archiving a great many treasures. Its camera is so high definition that it’s even possible to quickly scan highly readable PDF files of books on it.

My goal in retirement is to refine and refocus whatever of my skills and God’s gifts that remain into the service of God’s people. I aim to study more, to write more, to be available for spiritual direction, and hopefully to continue to lead pilgrimages.  (There are some in the works.  Stay tuned.) And to be of service in supplying to parishes as needed. God will determine what I can do and how long I can do it.  I aim to be subject to his will.

Number 6 (Music) I don’t quite understand and am not sure I fully agree with. I can’t speak for much that’s popular these days – to me it’s mostly undifferentiated, self-indulgent noise whose disappearance I’d notice only by the absence of annoyances in public environments. I think that music produced by people who are serious about music – not just classical – can stay healthy, diverse and available. Technology enables the production and distribution of music on both a smaller and broader scale than ever before.  Yes musicians have to make a living, but now a lot can be distributed without the need for fat-cat industry executives controlling it. That can be a good thing.

Number 9 (Cursive Handwriting) I do not lament. I slaved over the Palmer Penmanship, got the only Ds in my educational history in it, and still write so poorly that I often have trouble deciphering it. I also find that many young people, trained in what are obviously other methods, can still write with pen on paper quite rapidly and legibly, all the while having the skill to text faster than I can talk.  More power to them.

We just have to remember that technology is nothing more than a tool. It’s not a Savior. It’s still up to us to infuse technology with the values of graceful and grace-filled living.

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