Monday, February 16, 2015

The Phoney War

The technological world in which we live encourages multi-tasking in every venue of life, from bathroom blogging to cycling while on the phone. The above image, gleaned from the Interwebs, suggests a rather leisurely form of this (latter!) activity. I've done this myself, chatting merrily as I traverse the town, or (once in a while) listening to favorite music or to the police scanner if I'm wondering about some nearby sirens. It's American as deep-fried dill pickles.

The problem for me with being on the phone while cycling is that not everyone is equally good at it, and no one is as responsive to their environment when trying to multitask this way as they are when going "au natural" (in the technological sense, I mean).

Generally, I've had good experiences while toddling along on my slow bike and carrying on a relaxed conversation using my earbuds. They don't block all that much outside noise, and I can keep both hands on the handlebars. However, a number of times I've become aware I'm not AS good as I want to think I am at this. Shyness prevents me from going into details, but let's just say that my Guardian Angel is likely a bit nervous when the phone comes out and the earbuds go in.

This is particularly the case with music, as I can get pretty lost in that when cycling. A few months ago I was making my way to church one Sunday morning at sunrise. The crepuscular light was mesmerizingly beautiful as it wove its way through the clouds and along the still dark-shrouded streets. Add to this some beautiful 17th century English music for viols, and you have a moment etched in memory. And yet...

One of the things that I value about cycling is the ability to be deeply rooted in the Here and Now. In a world dominated by "cyber" this and that, there is something truly revolutionary about being completely rooted in the present moment and place.

Being on the phone or listening to music while driving is a complicated subject in itself, with a fair amount of legislation having been brought to bear on the subject of distracted driving in recent years. Yet, cycling often requires sharpened senses and perception as well, making such technological multi-tasking perhaps less than wise.

Yet, I wouldn't want to see an absolute ban on the practice. As with a great many things, I find myself skeptical about too much regulation of something like this. There are times when a peaceful phone conversion while cycling seems just the ticket. The issue is knowing when not to make a call, or when to hang up.

Beyond the question of plain old safety, there is the matter of escaping what is sometimes called "the sacrament of the present moment." Cycling allows one to engage deeply in this gift. So much today seems to encourage us to seek stimulation of the electronic or communication variety. As I reflect on my life, however, I see that it is only when I am rested enough (on all levels) that my communication, my observation, and my study yields real and lasting results. It is also the case that escaping from the present circumstance allows one to continue the shielding and isolation that marks so much of modern American civic life: being too busy, too self-absorbed to care or learn. I want cycling to be part of a life with plenty of shalom, in all the senses of that complex and rich Hebrew word.

So, I do still put my earbuds on from time-to-time and plug them into the phone when I think I need to make a call along the way...but I'm doing so much less now. It just seems not only wiser, but much more honest to the experience.

This Lent I am planning to do a fair amount of review on the theme of how electronic communication has affected my life in a number of areas...and this is one of them. In a season that emphasizes listening and silence, it may be a good time to declare a cease-fire in the Phoney War.

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