DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A New Mode of Community

Written by: on November 18, 2021

How to Disappear by Akiko Busch provides a manual of sorts for the reader, walking into how to embrace a life that is less outwardly seen and more inwardly at peace. Using personal experiences of how embracing nature and a less digitized world has impacted her life in various avenues, Busch advocates for less engagement in the technology that seems to track our every move. Housed under sociology, How to Disappear focuses heavily on the negative impacts of advanced technology and the obsession to stay visible to the outside world. From social media platforms to a refrigerator that is tethered to an internet signal, Busch is clear in her opinion that they are contributing towards a lack of privacy and simultaneously to the erosion of concern for that dwindling lack of invisibility.

While I appreciate the emphasis on increased awareness of just how connected we are at any given moment and the urging for the reader to venture into more nature and an invisible lifestyle, I’m not convinced that Busch lays out a thorough argument regarding the harm of technology. There is little acknowledgement throughout the book of the good that has come from technological advancements over the years. While I know this was published pre-COVID, I have been in awe since our global lockdowns how technology has been leveraged to keep families and communities connected in a time of forced isolation. I admit that my weekly screen time message is not a number I am proud of and I can easily mindlessly scroll, I have also participated in good that has come from a visible life. Just this week, I announced the return of my cancer diagnosis – and within hours could see and feel the gift of how a global community can rally towards support, love, and prayer. Likewise, when my son was sick a few months ago, it was the social media platforms and my desire to be visible – to live in community, even if digitally – that provided an opportunity for brothers and sisters in Christ around the world to plead with the Lord on his behalf. Had it not been for the technology or the desire to be seen, these episodes could have ventured into isolating and hopeless.

As I think of my NPO, it will require a heavy usage of technology to be effective, and in essence, is only possible because of the web-based programs available around the globe. What I think Busch misses in her work is that it is perhaps more of a question of where our heart and desire align in regard to being visible or invisible by the world. At the same time as the motivation of pride or vanity propels someone to be seen, equally damaging can be the motivation of shame for the one that desires to fade into the background. I strongly believe as a follower of Christ that we were created in community and for community. While that looks dramatically different today than it did when I was just a teenager, I don’t think either end of Busch’s spectrum of lifestyle can be deemed all good or all bad. I think we would be better off to ask where the good is in technology and where the good is in disconnection from it and strive to actively engage in those. The fullness is likely found in an integration of both nature and society, in the same manner that Jesus did during his ministry. Deeply connected and intentional in the being seen and known, he was equally driven towards solace and communion with the Father. Just imagine how many lives have been positively impacted during COVID by the rapid presence of the church on the web, allowing so many who did not have previous access to a physical location to engage with truth, hope, and His promise.

About the Author

Kayli Hillebrand

Associate Dean of International and Experiential Education at Vanguard University of Southern California.

13 responses to “A New Mode of Community”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    [Applause]

    I can’t even imagine the shape most churches would be in if it were not for the sake of creating community online, whether worship of spiritual formation small groups.

    At the same time, I wonder if technology, when it is safe, might prevent some from returning to the physical presence of community. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of those online connections but create new ways to inspire people to connect and serve.

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      I totally agree Andy. I’ve had many friends that have decided not to return to church or have little motivation to be back together in person after this season. Makes me so sad when you think of the richness that there is in the gathering together.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      I wonder if the lack of interest to return to in person worship is a statement to how disconnected emotionally/psychologically worshipping communities were pre covid? It is one of the gifts God has given us through covid…to reveal where things have fallen through the cracks?

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Kayli: That was a thoughtful essay. I agree with your criticisms about Busch’s analysis. At times Busch’s thoughts against technology seem superficial. Yes, it can be used for ill, but it can and does bring people together. All and all I enjoyed the book but I never felt there was any great depth to it. A lot of surface observations about technology. Like you said, it has more to do with the heart of the individual and aligning that with technology for good.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Kayli, you raise a number of good critiques of this book. It would have been helpful to hear of some of the benefits, not just the detriments of the digital world. We could not be taking with Jason in London with us scattered around the world without technology. We can point out all the negative aspects, but this new, digital world is here to stay. I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I will add you to my prayers in addition to your son.

  4. Kayli, wow… damn you and your family have been through it. I hope you find this community to be a place you can find support and encouragement.

    I felt Busch’s perspective was limited, though perhaps intentionally so. She certainly highlighted this paradigm to the exclusion our virtual necessities. After reading your post I have this question ringing in my ear: How do I use virtual experiences/avenues to foster greater connection in myself, others and God? How do I use it to diminish this connection?

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      Great questions, Michael! I’ve noticed during this pandemic that I’ve utilized technology through access to worship, podcasts, and various topic-based online communities has been most helpful. Even with the recent diagnosis and the other medical issues in the past, I’m part of online communities that stretch globally where people can encourage one another, share their stories, and be a platform where folks who may feel isolated in their diagnosis can feel understood and seen.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nice point about Busch not providing enough evidence on the potential harm of technology. The issue may rest in the individuals ability or lack of ability to journey between visibility and invisibility. Technology can be a tool of blessing or curse depending on who, when, and how that person uses it. COVID has definitely kept this very global society connected. My question is always about how authentic is this new found connectedness? While some relationships have been deep, and meaningful while others not so much. I also have reflected on the disconnection that occurred during the Iron Curtain days. Particularly, in regard to the people of God, who were able to be very connected and create supportive, growing, and multiplying spiritual communities. This was all despite no internet, cell phones or even access to landlines. What is the determining factor to this kind of visibility and connectedness? I don’t know.

  6. mm Henry Gwani says:

    Kayli I greatly appreciate the balance you bring to this discourse on the place of technology in the quest to disappear. Indeed as Ecclesiastes 3 declares, there is a time for everything. If we were to paraphrase this for this information age, we might include “… a time to engage in technology and a time to disengage,” in the mix. Indeed without technology, we will not be able to read your excellent article, engage in our weekly sessions with Jason, participate in online worship services, and engage in many other very positive events. So as we caution against over-engagement, may we also acknowledge the benefits of the right use of technology. Thanks again

  7. mm Eric Basye says:

    Kaylee, great post. I like your pushback on the subject matter as well. I think that you are on to something in regard to what you are saying. However, I will say that it was my impression that Busch was speaking more to our identity being found in who we present ourselves to be. How often are we posting about how our marriages are struggling, that we are undergoing some parenting challenges, that we have some deep inner fear that we are posers, etc.? But I, like you, am not a dooms day person. Technology is here. The question is, how can we leverage it for the greatest (gospel) good?

  8. Elmarie Parker says:

    Kayli, thank you so very much for your thoughtful post.

    And…my prayers join with the prayers of many others to accompany you as you deal with cancer returning. May God grant you daily strength for this journey, even as you continue to journey with your son.

    As others have shared, I appreciated your attention to the positive impact of social media, especially during this pandemic time (and the fact that Busch did not really share a lot of positives about technology). I have found that more screen time has asked me to exercise a different set of communication muscles–I experience people differently on the screen than I do in person…somehow I find it more challenging to track with non-verbals (such a huge part of communication). This leaves me curious about how others experience the fullness of communication via screen time vs in person time? What impact does this have over time on how we process non-verbals? What has your experience with this part of communication been during the pandemic?

  9. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Kayli thank you for your pushback on Busch’s book. I kept waiting for deeper engagement on how technology has been the culprit of visibility as though it is somehow anthropomorphic.
    I had a similar thought as you…”At the same time as the motivation of pride or vanity propels someone to be seen, equally damaging can be the motivation of shame for the one that desires to fade into the background.” I do not think technology is to blame for pride or shame.
    If you were to compare Busch’s understanding of identity to Friedman’s what would you see?

    And thank you for being willing to use technology to share what your personal journey is….that takes courage!

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