It’s a quiet, ordinary lunchtime at work. Facebook is open on my desktop computer; Twitter is running on my smartphone; my Kindle is standing by in case there’s a moment with nothing new to see or say on social media. The only non-digital object I’m interacting with is a bag of Maltesers, and very tasty they are too.
I love the ease with which I can find and share information by digital means. The multiplicity of media, with words and pictures available in two clicks from across the continents and down the centuries, is thrilling. In the digital age, time and space ‘contract into a span’, like the blessings of God in George Herbert’s ‘The Pulley’—funnelled into my eyes, ears and mind.
Yet when I write to express my own original creative thoughts, whether in poetry or prose, the ideas flow best through the tip of a boring, old-fashioned pen or pencil. Sticky ink runs through smooth plastic, on to crisp paper, guided by flesh, blood and bone fingers.
Writing with a pen, I’m linked back to the scribes who sat all day in the monastery scriptoria, copying Bibles and other sacred writings with aching hands and, as the natrual light faded, blurry eyes. What’s more, the polyphonic choral music that helps me best to focus has its roots in their age, too—Palestrina and Allegri echoing off stone walls and arches. But now I’m thrust forward again into the digital age, because that centuries-old music streams from the internet through the earpieces plugged into my phone. Everything changes… stays the same… changes…
I’m in midlife, on the ragged edge between modern and postmodern, with one foot in the digital and one in the mechanical world. It’s a privileged but restless place to be. Like George Herbert, I’m aware that all these gifts can make me ‘rich and weary’. Thankfully, I also know that God stands with me at every crossroads—the one who tells me to ask for the ancient paths but also warns me not to dwell on the past; the Ancient of Days whose compassions are new every morning.