The coronavirus pandemic has generated some psychological maladies to go along with physical disease. According to news reports, doctors are hearing from people who insist they’ve already had Covid-19. Experts say nearly all these folks have confused symptoms of seasonal flu or respiratory ailments with the newer illness. Some people claim to have had the virus long before it was first identified. Doctors have even coined a name for this conviction - “IthinkIhaditis.” It’s the unyielding belief that you were sick with a disease you never actually had. Hearing all this brings comfort to my inner hypochondriac.
Another disorder arising from the current pandemic is something called “Zoom Fatigue.” It’s manifest in weariness and exhaustion as one is forced to engage with people over an online conferencing app. Unlike “IthinkIhaditis,” Zoom Fatigue is an actual, contagious disease. I should know. I was the first one in the church to test positive.
Over the past couple of months, congregations have been learning new ways to stay connected. Much of this was forced upon us, with little or no time to prepare. That has brought its share of frustration and anxiety, but it’s also helped us to think about the unrealized potential of online communication. Whether through Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live or other media, pastors and churches are thinking about new ways to relate to a larger audience. This development is promising and surely worth pursuing, but a word of caution is in order.
Nearly 60 years ago, communications theorist Marshall McLuhan coined his famous phrase, “The Medium is the Message.” His point was that the medium through which content is conveyed plays a vital role in how it is perceived. More recently, author Nicholas Carr (The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains) has pointed out how online media diminishes our ability to contemplate and think deeply – the very qualities most needed to engage scripture and grow in spiritual maturity!
In a world where people have shorter attention spans, are easily distracted, confuse worship with entertainment, and treat information as a consumer commodity, the church needs to engage in careful reflection. How can we employ media to enhance our identity and mission? How comfortable are we with making worship a disembodied, “on-demand” experience? Does the church properly exist as a virtual community or a concrete and public gathering of people with verifiable names and addresses?
I don’t claim to have the answer to all these questions.
I plead only that we ask them – and seek God’s guidance as we answer.