The abundance of ideas Richard Powers throws at readers can feel overwhelming. As I read this novel, Powers's seventh, I was tempted to try to identify each literary allusion or reference to popular culture. Yet, though Powers is one of our foremost novelists of ideas, his narratives engage our attention through characters who do more than toss around profound thoughts.
Only a generation ago the settled opinion was that work would soon occupy fewer and fewer of our waking hours. We were bracing ourselves for the challenge of how to spend our increased leisure time. But it hasn't worked out that way. Instead, cellphones, laptops and PDAs tether us ever more firmly to the workplace.
Computers are changing the way we think. "Calm, focused,
undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of
mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short,
disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better." This is
probably not a good thing, says Nicholas Carr.
A writer in the Century some years ago recalled in passing the
era when mail was delivered twice a day. He noted, somewhat
whimsically, how that practice ensured at least two hopeful moments in
A bore, they tell us, is someone who, when you ask him how he is, tells you. “Let me tell you about my operation,” he says. To that familiar definition, our culture has added another: a bore is anyone who relates the details of an airplane incident.
On a recent trip to the University of Notre Dame to speak at a conference on “Religion, Spirituality and Business,” I stopped at a toll-road fast-food, fast-fuel station. A theme of my address was to be that “the market has won,” that it is all-enveloping, all-embracing, intrusive, unavoidable.
Has the advent of the Internet and computer technology led congregations toward the “virtual church,” undermining the face-to-face relationships that have long characterized congregational life? Two recent studies, one supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the other by the Indianapolis Center for Congregations, suggest not.
Each week pastors experience exhilarating opportunities and make agonizing decisions. Often the moments of decision erupt unexpectedly. There is no time to prepare. That was the case for Pastor Charlotte Robinson last fall at her church in Almond Springs, California.
Seminaries that use computers in teaching are often tempted in one of two directions. They either oversell the importance of the technology or underutilize it. They either promise the congregational equivalent of a flight simulator, or else use PowerPoint as a glorified overhead projector.