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Because it was so cold out, it took ten minutes to get on my outdoor gear: thermal underwear, double socks, double mitts, two sweaters, rain gear and my warmest toque. Gathering my equipment, taking a deep breath of resolve before leaving the house, I went to meet my friends down the road for a weekly early morning (now spaced 6 feet apart) birdwatching walk. We checked out the local heronry, the ten nests still empty (but male herons have been arriving in the locale in full breeding plumage). Down to the bay to check out the water birds (less every year), and look! … a flock of flickers mixed with varied thrush. We ask ourselves questions about migration average dates and why this and how that. We were cold. Binoculars steamed over, fingertips frozen. We returned exhilarated.

But why bother?  In less time, and much more comfort, we could have “connected” online; more birds, more plumages, more data. We could have had a Zoom bird-chat, made it a regular habit.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states, “In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, then potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.” Entropy; the natural tendency of an any isolated system is to degenerate.

When the COVID social restrictions first came into our lives, I did not expect them to last long. Zoom started; Zoom yoga, Zoom choir, Zoom family gatherings, Zoom poetry readings, Zoom communal worship, Zoom book launches, Zoom Book Club, Zoom art workshops, Zoom Film Festival. Though I have, or easily could acquire, Zoom capability, (I’d just need to change my lo-speed modem to hi-speed) (but I prefer lo-speed everything. High speed is too seductive), I thought, maybe I’d do it later. Almost a year later and I’m still not Zooming. True, I have missed some very special events. But the severe winter weather, the pandemic and my relatively remote location, all combined, offered more time for other pursuits. My daily hours of screen time, a self-imposed restriction, are quickly used up. I missed some meetings (have never been keen) but found time to do research projects (the Lindisfarne Gospels among others). My lethargy and my distractibility have not increased.

With digital technology you can get a very close up look at Lindisfarne Gospels. With those pixels glowing like jewels, you will be stunned. I have once seen it in London’s British Library.  No touching of course, no turning pages; they were displayed in a securely glassed case. Now, having seen those extraordinary ”Carpet Pages” online, magnified and aglow on a screen, will I find the real thing a little dull if I see it again?

Mute, unmute. Do real life social skills and commitments decrease? Is Zoom redefining “normal”? Does it increase internet dependency? Does “screen creep” impact on engagement? Is it “better than nothing”?

One of my major concerns about Zoom culture is that it might be an incentive for large corporations, banks, government, institutions of learning to reduce or eliminate the costs of building maintenance, supervisory functions, and other overhead costs. Will actual classrooms cease to exist? That will save money but what will be the cost to the social skill development of children?

Not all remote workers need Zoom and some employees clearly enjoy working from home. How many are going into a new kind of entropy? Why get dressed in the morning if you can work from your bed with a jacket and tie temporarily over your pajamas for Zoom time? 

What do Anglican worshippers need? I am grateful to be in a household worship bubble. We sing the hymns, chant the Psalm, read the Lectionary, follow the BAS prayers and even have a homily. It’s not just the choir that I miss or the chat over coffee after the service. I miss my faith community. Christian worship is communal. Our penitence and our celebration are communal.

Some Anglicans have created alternate ways to worship together. A contemplative prayer group meets outside, spaced, hiking in silence. A Bible Study group has divided into duos for “two-meter coffee”. “Wild church” continues with small groups at locations that cannot, sadly, be, publicly disclosed. Choir members sing four-part hymns with each other on the phone. These innovations have sprung up spontaneously, because of need, without diocesan/parish clergy initiation or support.

There is a qualitative difference between real time/real place interactions and the interactions in Zoom space.  Yes, time and cost of travelling to sites is eliminated. But what else is gone? The psycho/spiritual dynamics of real place work or worship sites can be  challenging while, concurrently, providing the interactions that allow humans to mature. That’s also true for family space. Those little communicative functions of facial expression, gesture, skin, muscle tone, posture, breathing, eye movement communicate so much more than words spoken on a screen. Zoom time increases loneliness for many while real people/real time /real space tends to deflate narcissism and delusions.

I choose to be a “place-holder” for the skills and values of the pre-wired world. Hand-writing letters, cards and notes, listening to CDs, (LPs even!), reading aloud from fat books, singing hymns by the piano, going “to church” when it resumes, birdwatching. Some skills, for instance the capacity to participate in extended conversation on a single topic, are “use it or lose it”. For now, I choose to turn down Zoom invitations. Instead I will do yoga by myself, phone my parish friends to chat and practice gazing (those Lindisfarne Gospels!) without rushing. 

Don’t get me wrong; the internet has been a gift during the COVID era: family and professional email, sending and receiving documents, research, an occasional YouTube, even the Cornell Ornithology Lab!  

If it’s urgent and necessary that I do so, I might change my mind. 

When the COVID social distancing requirements end, will Zoom atrophy?  Might users have become so accustomed to its strange ease that they can’t do without it?  Who would profit from that?  Will elderly parishioners, who do not like to drive anyway, prefer not to get into their Sunday clothes?  Will the parish continue to offer a Zoom service simultaneously with the communal service in the building?  With two services going on at the same time, will that add to or deplete the energy?/Rest is restorative but too much ease leads to lethargy increase.

When worship in the lovely parish church building resumes, I will have tears; relief, joy, gratitude. Will we all be there?

Plates from the Lindisfarne Gospels: Wikipedia: Public Domain