Eugene Cho

lamenting over technology [and no more love letters]

I recently saw this video about how “technology ruins romance” and laughed…and then lamented over the aspect of truth in the satire video.

In this day and age, all the beautifully tragic and emotional romantic situations from older movies and books are a lot more difficult to come by. Lost loves, missed opportunities, lovers’ quests…are all taking on new shapes and forms.. This new series of shorts might give you an idea of what we mean.

And of course, I began to ponder the “beauty and depravity” of technology. It has a life of its own. If you don’t believe me…consider your, mine, and our collective relationship with our phones and especially our smartphones. Or just examine the smartphone wars – iPhone, Nexus, Android, webOS, Windows Phone 7 series…

I am a fan of technology but simultaneously, I’m wondering what happens to us, our relationships, our cultures, our spirituality, and our humanity when we don’t regularly and carefully examine the why and how of what we do.

I lament that it’s very possible that my kids will likely never write or receive too many letters. I lament that they may never receive a hand written “love letter” from their future spouse. When Minhee and I began courting one another, something called DOS email had just started becoming popular but we had no idea what it was and so, we did hree things to build our relationship:

  1. Wondered intensely how one another was doing which made us pray for one another.
  2. Had two very quick phones calls each week. During this time, phone calls to Korea was about .65 cents/minute. Emphasis on two and quick as we had to make that modification after our collective phone bill in the first month of our courtship = $1000+. Her father was not happy.
  3. We wrote and wrote and wrote letters. I wrote nearly every single day.

Email. Twitter. Facebook. Texting. Smartphones…

I love technology but wow, I’m amazed how fast everything seems to be moving.

Consider how this impacts ministry or even our spirituality. Years ago, I would have never thought of hosting an (intense) discussion…on my blog about:

So, here’s my speculation on the NEXT big trend for churches: 3D Multi-Site Campuses with Extreme Ultimate Twittering (I’m Half Joking and Half Serious. Look for the big budget churches to roll out 3D video venues before you know it.)

I know that there are so many wonderful aspects of technology but seriously, do you ever lament about something lost because of technology? What might that be for you?

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16 Responses

  1. Bethany says:

    My husband and I dated over a long distance. He graduated and when on to grad school while I was still finishing undergrad. That first summer we wrote massively long letters, but it also was the first summer I had a cell phone and didn’t have to worry about long distance prices. While I still love the letters and they were a very important starting point to our relationship, the phone calls, emails, and ims that characterized the next year of our relationship were even more important for establishing each other as THE person to talk to about our day. You can’t replace the value of talking to your most important person when everything is lousy with an angsty letter that gets to them 3 days later. Even now we work rather different schedules, and we use gchat and text messaging to stay connected.

    It’s different, more ephemeral. I tried to save our emails from early in our relationship the same way I saved our letters and it didn’t work. But the relationship is still there even if the physical evidence of the communication is not.

  2. […] Cho considers the effects of technology–and not just on romance. What’re your […]

  3. Andy M says:

    I think that our technology is damaging us. We have more information thrown at us today than at any other point in history, between advertising and other things. Until recently, world history happened slowly taking decades or hundreds of years for anything major to happen. Now we expect the world to change overnight. Everyday there is a “crisis” about this or that, whether there truly is a crisis or not. As marvelous as our brains are, we weren’t meant to handle the kind of stress that we put ourselves in just by absorbing everything that comes at us in one day, which in the past might have been spread out over the course of years.

    I love technology, but I have to wonder if it may be part of the reason that ailments like depression are such a problem in the developed world, but not in the developing.

    There are times where I seriously would like to be Amish just for awhile, just to learn how to live without all of it. Freedom is not being able to do whatever we want, true freedom is not always doing what we want and being fine with it.

  4. elderj says:

    @Andy – good point. We really weren’t made for this kind of overabundant information processing, and yes, we are much more aware of events that are happening which ramps everything up to crisis mode and causes us to believe that we have much more agency than we do. I wonder what this does to our prayer life and to our dependence on God.

    As a historian, I have to also wonder about how this kind of technology will affect our ability to recapture the past. For many thousands of years, we’ve relied on records, tangible, real records to give us some sense of what went before. Thankfully St. Paul didn’t write an email to the Ephesian church that they later deleted in order to make room for new files, or more upgraded technology. The rapidity and ephemeral nature of our communication I think makes it much more likely that we write before thinking since our words will not likely be kept or read by anyone beyond the original recipient. There is a sort of permanent impermanence that dominates the communicative discourse of the day that I think does not serve us well.

  5. your friend says:

    I have been a missionary in a country in Africa 26 years ago, in the deep jungle area. No TV. No radio. No phone, no fax, no email. Just letters.

    A letter took 3 weeks to arrive my home country and if the person wrote back immediately, 3 more weeks to get to me! Can you imagine how letters were a TREASURE to me? I delighted in each word! (And words were chosen after much thought, therefore, often deeper expressed, at that time, may I add!)

    I am still a missionary, in Asia, in a multi million, fast changing, high tech city. I have worked hard to keep my friendships from my youth and young adulthood. We are in touch via technology, but words got cheap.

    I am EXPECTED to answer immediately (26 yrs ago it was seen a PRIVILEGE to have an answer soon!) and staying in touch via email is often
    taken for granted, because it is seen as being so easy.

    Not for me! My mission work demands A LOT of sitting behind the computer and I feel I have square eyes from working behind it all day! Then, it takes this extra effort (and a big dose of love!) to actually sit down loooonger and write very personal and caring emails!

  6. Eugene, I think need need to spend a few days without your phone camping. That might help you get over your lament.🙂

    I’m half kidding.

    With every advance in technology we lose some things and we gain some things.

    You lament the fact that you’re kids will probably never experience hand writing letters & $0.65/min phone calls to Korea. But those things weren’t even possible 100 years ago.

    I think everyone gets nostalgic about the peculiarities of their little slice of history and culture.

    Never the less, I do think technology changes us and changes our relationships and we should think about that first rather than mindlessly jumping into every latest thing.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      I love tech. Don’t get me wrong.

      But one of the things I look forward to every year is getting away to a small town of 300 in Nebraska each year. No TV, radio, internet, wifi, cellphone, etc.

      The first time I did this…I went through withdrawal for the first three days. After that, it felt so good.

      But I still love my tech.

  7. Dave says:

    People laugh at the seemingly quaint and backwards ways of the Amish. But if you examine the Amish reasons for rejecting technology, it is done while asking the question, “How will this technology affect the community?” (my paraphrase).

    We have to quit blindly accepting that if it’s new, it’s good. If it’s an advance in technology, then it MUST be an advance for civilization.

    I’m not calling on us all to be Amish in lifestyle, but I AM encouraging us – as pastors and leaders – to encourage our people, our families, to examine how technology is affecting their interpersonal and community-wide relationships.

  8. Steve says:

    I think the church could move past the 3D idea and start using life like holograms. I remember in the old days when I was dating, (70’s and early 80’s) we actually used the phone to talk to girls.

  9. A few thoughts which I think bring out further where you may be going Eugene. the philosopher Heidegger also laments about technology but also indicates that it is part of being human. In that sense “the question concerning technology” isn’t whether the new technology is good or bad, or if older forms of technology keep us more connected or are better in other ways, but whether we are thoughtful in our engagement with technology: does technology determine us or do we determine how we use technology.

    I find it interesting that letters and phone calls are not seen as technology in this discussion. It seems possible that as writing proliferated, more and more, that some could have lamented the loss of the personal touch. No longer were messages conveyed by human presence and word of a messenger who was the voice and presence of the one who sent the messenger. Writing is a technology and it evolved and changed. Paper making is technology, ink in a pen, technology. Can’t escape it.

    There was no time when humanity did not have technology. Amish are not without technology they simply are using technology that is now several centuries old. A horse drawn buggy and and a horse drawn plow were at one time new technologies, that made travel and farming easier and faster. Pants were also at one time a a new form of fashion, that resulted from new technology of clothing fabrication.

    “The question concerning technology” concerns whether or not are we humanized by technology? Do we use technology or does technology use us? Are we listening to what our inventions tell us or are we deaf and blind to our own creations?

    The laments I hear Eugene speak and in the video, and the laments in the comments seem not properly speaking about technology or even the particular technologies, but that we simply accept our technological inventions without asking the “question concerning technology”.

  10. Andy M says:

    I think you said it best here: “The question concerning technology concerns whether or not are we humanized by technology?”

    That really captures it, because humans are meant to function in certain ways, there are healthy and unhealthy ways of living. To live in unhealthy ways is to dehumanize us.

    When I referred to the Amish, I didn’t mean to imply they have no technology. Just that they keep things very simple. I love that.

    I think most communications technology inherently tends to divide us. Take phones for example, or even letters. Families used to stay together in the same communities for many generations. To leave the community was to likely never see or possibly even hear from your family again, so it made such a journey less likely because of the personal cost. I heard recently about a family from Europe, I believe from Ireland, who decided a very long time ago to travel to America. The family and friends they were leaving behind held a gathering much like a “wake” just as if they were dead, because they most likely would never see them again.

    But letters and phones enable us to contact loved ones from long distances, thus giving us greater freedom in where we wish to live, but it allows us to be distant from our loved ones. It is good and bad all at the same time, it connects but divides us at the same time.

    The only way to counter any negative effects is to at least be aware of how things affect us. Equipped with that knowledge, we can make the healthiest and most humanizing choices.

  11. Bernadine says:

    I believe we have lost the art of conversation due to technology. With everyone texting, instant messaging, twittering, facebooking, etc., no need to actually talk!

    Sometimes much(in the way of communicating) is lost between generations. For example, I did not grow up with any of these things and I have 2 teenagers who rely on such technology for communication. I believe balance is key here. Technology is important and necessary but not at the cost of losing contact with the human spirit.

  12. Micah says:

    My attention span…

    I think the reduction of most information streams into discrete bite-sized chunks (e.g. blog entries, Twitter, etc) has made us (or perhaps just me) less tolerant of longer pieces of informational content. It is harder to get through a whole book than it used to be. Essentially, I wind up trading off deep or specialized knowledge in favor of broad and more general knowledge because I consume a lot more information but it is typically higher-level and more synthesized.

  13. Andrea says:

    While I was dating my husband just less than 2 years ago, we wrote letters through our university’s campus mail system. Drop off a love note in the morning and receive one in the afternoon. Love letters have quite a different tone than email and include class-time doodles.

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