How the Internet shapes decisions — a Quaker's perspective
If you agree those limitations pose problems, consider the loss Quakers experience as they try conducting business on the internet.
Traditionally Quakers rely heavily on silent "gathered" reflection to discern what to do. Yet silence “plays” about as well on the internet as it does on talk radio. Imagine Rush Limbaugh interrupting a debate (usually one-sided) with “Let’s pause a moment in silence to consider what the caller is saying.”
Quaker silence gets even more complicated because Friends seek to be “spirit-led” in the stillness of reflection and meditation. When was the last time you sought the spirit as you were e-mailing or texting? I’m not saying it doesn’t happen (it is more likely in the pauses of text exchanges than in, say, board room discussions or political debates), but it’s increasingly unlikely in this rapid-fire world.
For many Quakers, “spirit-led” means led by God. As a Friend recently commented, “When I look into the eyes of another, I am looking into the eyes of God.” The comment comes from the core Quaker belief that there is “that of God (or the Spirit, or both) in everyone.”
But if you aren’t looking at another person, you are unlikely to fully feel in the presence of their divinity. And if they are not looking into your eyes, your own divine presence may be forgotten. Our communication is shaped by that presence, or, alas, lack of it.
I raise these questions because of the tendency to conduct more and more business through the internet, conference calls, and, yes, video conferencing. I’m suggesting, as many others have, that every medium shapes its content — and hence the outcome of communication.
We all should ask ourselves how our decisions are altered by the medium we choose. And then we should consider what we might have decided had we met face-to-face — sharing in timely silence, allowing the “spirit” to lead us, seeing the divine presence in each other’s eyes.
Question: How might the decisions of our democratic institutions (Congress, the judicial system, elections) be different if they adopted these practices?