Monday, December 8, 2008

Technology and the End of Happy Accidents

It is dead week here at Candler, and I am sitting in the theology library translating Isaiah 55 for my Hebrew Readings class. Downstairs there are computers with a program on them which provides every single passage of the Bible in its original language, and rolling the cursor over any word provides its meaning, parsing, other passages where it's found, etc. An incredible tool for faster and more stream-lined word searches, among dozens of other uses.

But I am one story up in the reference room, using the standard lexicon. I'm tempted to go downstairs, as it would speed up my work exponentially. However, I'm doing my best to stay disciplined about using books as much as possible. Why?

Happy accidents.

Happy accidents are those times when you learn unexpectedly: when, in the process of searching for one thing, you find another; when, in the searching, unforeseen finding comes upon you; when, in the passage from Point A to Point C you stumble upon Point B, having had no idea it was there in the first place; when, intending to merely have your informational question answered, the question itself is transformed with new and surprising light from a previously unseen window of knowledge.

Happy accidents happen when you walk, rather than drive; when you talk over lunch and not by email; when you read the book and not the cliffnotes. Happy accidents happen when we open ourselves up to God's wonderfully unpredictable, head-tilting hand. Happy accidents are bursts and explosions of insight in the least likely times or places.

Happy accidents make life and learning a story and not a machine.

Because happy accidents know not shortcuts. I will not hear the message of Isaiah 55 by using Bibleworks version 7.0. I will not hear afresh the word of God in any passage by cutting corners. Happy accidents only occur, as Ellen Davis reminds us, when we read slowly.

Thus technology is often the great culprit in short-circuiting happy accidents. The internet -- on which I write this very moment! -- is perhaps the chief of this unhappy posse of guilty line-cutters. Don't know a word? Don't know a person? Wikipedia. Don't know a book? Amazon. Don't know anything else? Google. The possibilities of happy accidents have become virtually nil. What we want to know is what we will know ... now. Done and done.

(And of course, what could be better than an internet in your pocket? The Babel of our progress: never speak in person; never speak at all; never not know; never be a second delayed; never not have a life soundtrack; never not have a movie ready to suppress boredom. Amen and amen!)

So, today, amidst the thousand ways in which I am myself (of course) implicated in this deluge of technological shortcuts and inhumanity, my tiny rebellion, my miniature ark, is the thick tome of The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.

What can I say? I never would have expected it, either.

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