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Sabbatical, Day 73: Morality On The Real-Time Web

Let’s begin with a couple of links. Firstly, opening up TweetDeck this morning, I found a link from Robert Scoble that Christians will want to think about. It comes from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph: Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values, scientists warn. The headline is rather sensationalist, because this is not merely about Twitter and Facebook. It’s about the general speed at which we receive information in an Internet culture that is rapidly moving into the age of the ‘real time Web‘.

The big issue is the lost time for reflection. To take one quote from the article:

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” said Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, from the University of Southern California, and one of the researchers.

Elsewhere, the article says,

The volunteers needed six to eight seconds to fully respond to stories of virtue or social pain, but once awakened, the responses lasted far longer than the volunteers’ reactions to stories focused on physical pain.

We don’t even get six to eight seconds – and that’s rapid in comparison to Christian traditions of reflection and contemplation! Put this together with the information overload possible from the Net – I’d love to edit down the number of entries I have in Google Reader but they all seem soooo important – and we have a serious problem. 

So here are a couple of questions I thought I’d put up for discussion:

1. How do you tackle the need for time and reflection in a the fast-moving world of the Internet?

2. What approaches do you find helpful in prioritising the best and most relevant online sources from the abundance available?

For a second link, let’s have a lighter note. Having written recently about the difficulties of explaining why last Friday was Good to the children, here is an approach they would have loved, had we lived nearer. On Good Friday evening, there was a novel way to observe the Stations of the Cross, using railway stations in Wales. (HT to John and Olive Drane.)


After discovering these two links this morning, I set off for my once-every-eight-weeks visit to the osteopath. The plantar fasciitis is nearly gone from my foot, largely thanks to the exercises he prescribed. He also said my body was reacting better to treatment. He thought that might be the sabbatical, because I wasn’t being drained of energy by the usual daily grind. (And whatever you might say about ministry and vocation, it contains a reasonable selection of grind.)

However, he traced some neck pain to my right shoulder and wondered about my posture on that side. Did I use a computer? Yes, I said, but I operate the mouse with my left hand. What about the phone? Yes, being left-handed I hold a phone in my right hand so I can write with my left. Nothing wrong witih that. Except when I need to cradle the phone between my ear and my neck on the occasions I am using both hands. When would that be? Ah, that would be when I am cooking at tea-time and my mother rings up. I need a quiet word with her. And I need the self-discipline not to answer when I see Mum and Dad’s number come up on the phone screen in Caller ID.


Finally tonight, it’s about time I told another story about the children. I know you wouldn’t guess I’m a proud Dad, would you? I know these stories are precious to all parents; I can only say they seem all the more so to Debbie and me, since we only entered that category in our forties.

Anyway … Rebekah(6) and Mark (4 1/2) were in the bath tonight. Rebekah is a bright girl, but has to demonstrate her mental superiority over her brother from time to time. Intellectually, he is catching her up and passing her in some respects. She began asking him to do some sums. 

“What’s eight plus eight?” she demanded.

“Sixteen,” he replied quickly.

“Correct!” said Rebekah. “What’s sixteen plus sixteen? Don’t count out loud!”

A moment later: “Thirty-two!”

“Did you know the answer, Rebekah?” I enquired.


No wonder he doesn’t want to spend time with children his own age, only older children and adults. It means problems for his socialising, but at the same time Daddy is proud that his son is showing the same childhood interest in Maths.

Wanting Mummy

This afternoon, Debbie got back from a weekend at the annual Children’s Ministry conference in Eastbourne. Managing the children and preparing for this morning’s service has been quite a stretch since she left around 5:30 am on Friday. (She had another call to make in Sussex first.)

It hasn’t been the juggling of responsibilities so much, although that has been a factor. Anyone who spotted that today’s sermon only appeared on the blog in the early hours of this morning rather than yesterday evening as usual will get a hint of that.

This morning, we loaded up my car with all sorts of distractions to occupy them during the service, since it was one of the alternatve weeks when Sunday School doesn’t happen. Scrap paper, pens, cuddly toys and games all made their way to church – where we were told that two current Sunday School teachers and one former teacher had arranged a session especially for our kids, knowing I would be coping on my own with them while trying to lead a communion service. How kind is that?

No, the real issue has been dealing with the children’s emotions while mummy has been away. They are used to her being away for a day or two here and there, normally dealing with something to do with her house that we retained when we married and which we let through an agent. However, familiarity with Debbie’s short term absences never makes these times emotionally easier for them.

They coped better this time – there is a pragmatic virtue in keeping busy, maybe in the short term. So after school on Friday we went to the supermarket and bought some treats. (Bribery is good, too.) Yesterday, after Rebekah’s regular Saturday morning ballet lesson, we headed into town. Mark wanted to check one of our two Waterstone’s branches to see whether the one book he doesn’t have in the latest Thomas the Tank Engine series was in stock. It wasn’t. Rebekah wanted a visit to her favourite place of worship, Claire’s Accessories, a place of torture for males, and so Mark played up something rotten while we were in there. On the way back to the car, a detour to Millie’s Cookies  at least gave us the chance to sample their raspberry and white chocolate flavour.

It all broke down yesterday tea-time. Debbie phoned for a chat with the little monkeys before they headed for the bath and bed. Rebekah told her how much she was missing her, and Debbie replied that she would be back with some presents for them, something I knew from a text message she had sent me in the afternoon.

“Mummy, I like presents but I want you more than the presents,” was Rebekah’s devastating reply from the heart.

And I thought, if only more of us could reply like that – to one another, and especially to God.