Last night: a dinner for 12 in celebration of a friend's birthday. After the meal, before the cake, nearly everyone whipped out his or her smart phone, ipod or cell phone to check their messages, report the latest NFL score, and, I suppose, show off their tech with-itry. My wife and I were among those who merely watched this cultural phenomenon.
I took the electronic display as a sign of social awkwardness, of filling in the lagging conversation, probably a sign of restlessness. Most of us are lonely, even in a crowded room, and bored, no matter how busy our lives are.
Writer-blogger Sam Rocha recently wrote about his take on politics as "a palliative cure for boredom." I think he means we read blogs and become politically active or socially engaged because we are somehow unhappy in our ordinary lives and yearn to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Hence politics and the internet.
What,he asks, is boredom but "loneliness, alienation, lovelessness and the desire for something to occupy the time...?" It is "not quite feeling at home in the place you are." In an earlier post, I referred to boredom as the fear of running out of things to do and connected it with acedia.
Rocha goes so far as to suggest that time spent doing scholarly work, ministry, advocacy, and certainly the virtual reality of reading or writing blogs is just a way to kill time when we could be (should be?) spending time with real people in real communities.
Is he serious? I see much of the writing I do, and that of the spiritual masters I read, as prayerful work. Our words reach real people, eventually, even though we are isolated while writing. We writers are engaged with readers, even if we have to imagine them. The contemplative life, as it used to be called, is surely as valid as the active life in that busy world out there.
(I discovered some of my readers, it so happens, yesterday when I saw to my great surprise five responses to my recent post on goodness and a film about the Holocaust. My imagined readers were real.)
So it seems to me that substantive writing, like the careful reading in which we lose ourselves, is a spiritual activity. It is soul work. The virtual reality of the internet is only one medium of expression: the words and ideas we generate, unless they are trivial and deal with political gossip, come from one interior to another.
If restlessness is the ultimate source of all the words being generated every day, I am grateful that we were born restless, full of energy and creativity. As a result, we are able to generate new brain cells every day and thus remain fully alive.
I don't think valuable writing comes from bored, lonely, loveless people or that our daily routines and the time spent with real people are all that boring. Perhaps Rocha doesn't think so, either, really.