Tech lament

by Ann Fontaine

This week I read Email in the enterprise: entering its twilight and I fell into the slough of despond. A sense of drowning in tech overwhelmed me almost to the point of tears. I consider myself fairly techie. I mentor two online Education for Ministry (EfM) groups where with a friend we served as tech support for a couple of years. I do the news for the Episcopal Café on Tuesdays which entails a small amount of tech knowledge, I have started blogs for myself and for the church I serve and I manage a couple of listserves. I use Facebook™ and Twitter™ for personal and church communication. I know some basic HTML code or how to find it if I need it. So why the despair at this article?

Email is without a doubt the most tried and true technology for both enterprise and personal communication, but it’s not without its shortcomings. Specifically, Atos CEO Thierry Breton cited email’s spam-like nature as one of the biggest contributors to “information pollution” that’s bogging down management. His goal is for Atos — which has nearly 50,000 employees worldwide — to be a “zero-email company” within the next three years. In place of email, Breton says that Atos will increasingly encourage its employees to collaborate on instant messaging and social networking platforms.

This marks the first time an organization of this size has made such a definitive statement on email, but it almost certainly won’t be the last. In truth, the gradual shift from email to messaging and social networking platforms began some years ago, but it’s only recently that this phenomenon has penetrated the enterprise from the consumer side.

Is this the beginning of the end of my love affair with computers, the internet and electronic communications? Will I be able to keep up? One day will I wake up and find the connections broken and the tech beyond my ability to use it? The whole process of learning new technology is exhausting as I project myself into the future.

A couple of weeks ago I learned that the system I use frequently for online classes may change. Facebook™ continues to evolve and change. Now maybe email will go the way of the mimeograph. It is like running uphill in sand: sliding back several steps for every one ahead.

I remember the first time I used email – I loved the ability to have both the immediacy of a phone call and the time to consider one’s answer of snail mail. I was in seminary and could communicate with my friend in Singapore instantly by email. I could write papers in my stream of consciousness style and re-arrange it all later, adding footnotes effortlessly. I knew the demise of email was coming when our kids no longer answered email and we had to “text” them or “friend them” or even better “friend” their friends to get information. I learned how to text, thanks to “T9 word” taught to me at General Convention by our 18 year old Deputy. But it seems change has no end.

I like being a “tech savvy” grandma – being able to keep up with kids and grandkids. I like the connections to friends and students bringing enrichment and colleagues into my life. In a small Wyoming town it increased my access to people who shared my passions in politics and the church. It allowed us to organize and make things happen. Distance learning made it possible for people who live in isolated locations to be in a small group for study and reflection when they would not otherwise find people with similar interests.

These feelings of not keeping up will probably pass for now but a time will come when reality will “bite.” The Bible speaks to the passing of our gifts:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ John 21:18 (NRSV)

And reassures me that it will be okay:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,

and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

So even to old age and grey hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might

to all the generations to come.

Your power and your righteousness, O God,

reach the high heavens. Psalm 71 (NRSV)

For now I will learn all that is learnable and when the day comes when I can no longer keep up, hopefully God will provide a new thing.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Interim Vicar,St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church, Manzanita and Nehalem, OR, keeps the blog what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

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