Alexa, … Go


Today’s Charlotte Observer contains a half-page advertisement that reads in part: “Start your day listening to the top stories from The Charlotte Observer on Alexa”

We don’t own or want an Alexa, but I have seen enough and read enough about the product to know that there is no place for it in our home. Yet, I admit to being intrigued by the idea of not having to walk out to the paper box each morning to retrieve the Observer where I might encounter and have to greet a neighbor taking a walk with or without a dog. I admit to being charmed by the thought of not having to turn pages of a newspaper in order to read an article of interest. And, I am awed to know that Alexa can give me a three-minute news brief that includes the day’s weather. What a package for a busy, multi-tasked life.

My church, which I dearly love and respect, does not, as far as I know, have an Alexa. But like many churches of today, it fully uses technology. On the large, white screen above the pulpit, which blocks the view of the intricate woodwork of the choir loft, each hymn and Bible reading is displayed. I remember the days of having to flip pages of a hymnal or Bible to find the correct song or verse. Not today! Technology has made it so that I do not have to remember where Job or Romans are in the Bible because the big screen displays the words. And best of all, no more having to quickly turn to a particular hymn in order to be able to begin it with everyone else. Perhaps in a future time, my church will remove the ponderous pews and install stadium seating with cup holders for my coffee or water cup.

Now, the Bible verses displayed on the large, white screen are usually translations from the NIV. What a relief that we are not forced to read those hard to understand words from the KJV. It is a pleasure to be done with those Thees, Thous, and that strange use of Whom. No body I know talks like that, and it is easier to understand what is going on. After all, the Bible is difficult enough to follow without struggling with the words. But I also want someone to do the same with some of our hymns. For instance, today, with our huge earth altering machines, no church would be built in a vale. We would just fill it in and build on. And, speaking of hymns, who tarries in today’s time? Why we just hang out, that’s all.

I am not against technology. I’m using it now to type these words. I remember my college days of having to go to the library for needed information. First I would look for the topic’s book call number in the card catalogue, then go down the long rows of shelves looking for the book I sought. Gasp! Sometimes it was not there because someone else had checked it out, or worse, it had been mis-shelved and was in another, incorrect location. Today I can just type in a topic in my computer’s search engine, and there it is—everything I need. The same convenience is available for unfamiliar words. For instance, I am reading essays by Marilynne Robinson and she challenges not only my thinking but also my modest vocabulary. However, when reading her I keep my smart phone next to me so that I can look up an unfamiliar word. Thus, my computer search engine saves me from walking past a gallery of books on many topics on my way to a particular book, an it also saves me from flipping pages in a dictionary to look up a Robinson used word such as etiology and not be hindered by seeing the word etiolate above it and learning its meaning. My machine hones in on a topic and isolates—both the information and me.

Once, when I was teaching senior English in Virginia, the principal of the school asked me why I was requiring my students to read Macbeth in the “original English” and not using a modern “translation”. I told her that one of the many reasons a person reads Shakespeare is for his use of the language and that, while it did require effort, the work at understanding him always gave benefits. She didn’t get it, and I worry that many of us today don’t understand that, as I see it, we are in danger of losing our language, both old and new. It seems that we are attempting to reduce everything into sound-bites of information that are easily, we think, digested. However, what we may be producing is a culture that is information rich and experience poor. If that happens, we will have no experience from which to grow. Just as in the earlier mentioned use of Whom, we will have blurred our usage and possibly our language.

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