Next week, classes start again. The first day of class, as I provide an overview of the class, I’ll tell my students that, thanks to the magic of the internet, they have easy access to plenty of things that are more interesting and engaging than what I can provide. Seriously, even if I were the most engaging professor in the world—and I’m not bad, frankly—I can’t compete with cat videos, instant messages, and the rest of human knowledge and entertainment available online. Still, I have no interest in banning laptops in my classroom. Instead, I suggest that, entertaining or not, my lecture and other classroom interactions will generally be more valuable than said cat videos.
A quick confession: if you were a gambling person, you’d probably want to bet that, if I was looking at my phone at Church, it wasn’t my Gospel Library app I was reading. Twitter, Facebook, email, RSS reader? That’s where the smart money is.
Almost two years ago, a friend lent me David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. I’ve finally been able to dig in, and, in 100 pages or so, I’ll be done.[fn1] Though it’s plot (such as it is) revolves around an IRS Regional Examination Center, the central theme of the book is boredom. In section 44, DFW writes:
But moreover, I discovered, in the only way that a man ever really larks anything important, the real skill that is required to succeed in a bureaucracy. . . .
The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and hman. To breathe, so to speak, without air. . . . .
It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
Yesterday at Church, I didn’t look at Twitter, Facebook, email. When I was reading my phone, it was, with one exception,[fn2] the lesson manual or scriptures being referenced.
Which is to say, if you made the smart bet yesterday, you’d have lost.
Why, though? Was Church yesterday more exciting, more engaging than usual? Maybe; in our Sunday School lesson, our teacher contextualized and analyzed Moses 1 in in part through Gauguin’s D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous.
But it’s supremely possible that I’ve ignored similarly engaging lessons in the past, in thrall to Felix Salmon’s analysis of contemporary business news, or perhaps pictures of my friends’ children.
It hit me, though, that, by disappearing into my phone, I wasn’t engaging with my fellow-Saints. I was losing those intangible, but real, lessons we can learn through our interactions, our give-and-take. And I was potentially depriving my fellow-Saints of strength I can offer them.
So, as much as I love Twitter, I’m done with it at Church. Ditto other internet pursuits.
Will it be boring? Probably, at least at times. And I don’t want to suggest that boredom is somehow virtuous; I doubt it has any significant moral valiance. But, per DFW, it is, partly, the condition of modern life. We work to escape boredom, but boredom is part of life. This life is, as President Hinckley said a number of years ago, “interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.”
And so I will engage, even through the smoke and dust and delays of lessons that don’t engage me and talks with which I disagree in anticipation of the occasional spiritual vista that comes only through interaction—real engagement—with other flawed and fallible humans also slogging through the realities of serving and being served without sufficient time or training, but with desire and love.
[fn1] And I’ll (finally) give you your book back. Thanks, Jason!
[fn2] To jog my memory, I wanted to look at the Church’s recent post on versions of the First Vision.