March 1, 2009
The iPodization of Our Culture
Being a pastor, I am deeply concerned with the church’s interaction with culture, especially as it affects evangelism. Postmodern culture is supposed to be marked by a profound urge for community. The longing community is supposed to be a determining factor as to who postmoderns are and how they relate to each other. Social scientists point to the proliferation of chat rooms and online forums as evidence of this communal longing.
Yet, I am noticing a chink in the armor of this component of postmodernism. I am beginning to sense that people today are afraid of community. Postmodernity does not seem to foster an interest in being in community at all. There is a contemporary distancing from others that some are terming the “iPodization” of our culture.
I work out at least five days a week at the Lexington Athletic Club. iPods are ubiquitous there. Every jogger, biker, elipticalite, weight trainee—virtually everyone—has an iPod strapped to their arms and ear buds plugged into their heads. While they are exercising in the same room, they are working out in different worlds. One is grooving to Dave Brubeck. Another is headbanging with Haste the Day. Still another is praising the Lord with the Dave Crowder band. No one talks to anyone else. No one even looks at anyone else, not even a casual glance. I could get more personal interaction on a New York subway! We see the same thing at public gatherings or on the streets of any major city. People walking along, white buds stuck in their ears. They are in their own little iPod worlds. Is this what we mean by community?
Doing It My Way
When you check out at the grocery store, do you hunt for the friendliest checkout clerk, or the shortest line? Or do you go to the even “friendlier” U Scan station? That’s right. You buy the groceries and you check out yourself. U scan, U bag, and U pay. You don’t have to talk with anyone, unless some produce you bought doesn’t have the magic numbers attached. When that happens, a computer voice tells you to wait for a cashier. Who waits? I just put the produce aside. I didn’t need it anyway. (I’m not alone. I’ve watched others at the U Scan stations do the same.) What kind of community does U Scan create? I think postmoderns don’t like each other.
How about the ubiquitous ATMs. We don’t have to talk to a teller anymore. What about “Pay at the Pump”? We don’t have to interact with the gas station attendant. It’s starting to sound like solitary confinement. Hey, for some postmoderns, perhaps that’s really what they’re seeking.
In his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), Robert Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from family, friends and our neighbors.
Here’s an online description of the book:
So what does all of this mean for our culture? What does all of this mean for the church? These questions need to be asked and discussed. But perhaps you don’t want to talk? Then turn up your iPod!