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When I take the bus from my Project Neighborhood house to Calvin’s campus or vice versa, it takes me around an hour (as compared to a 20 minute car drive).

Being no stranger to hassle, I sometimes take it in order to read and feel better about my carbon footprint. It involves a long wind through Easttown and Gaslight Village via the 6 bus and a short jaunt down College Avenue via the 15. Sometimes when I get off the 6 to catch the 15, I miss it because the schedules are mere minutes apart. I realized early on that instead of waiting 30 minutes for the next bus and then walking an extra 10 minutes home, I could just walk 30 minutes down College Ave and get home.

A week or so ago, I missed the transfer. I queued up a podcast, put in my earbuds, and started down the street. I passed Highview Park and noticed a group of five twenty-somethings throwing a couple of frisbees around in the unseasonably warm weather.

My curiosity got the best of me. I backtracked to a bench that looks over the park and watched for a few minutes as they laughed and ran around. Overcome by a rising sense of being mistaken for a creepy stalker, I picked myself back up and continued down the road, phone and earbuds stowed in my pocket.

That group of friends reminded me of a devotion that my professor gave in my “Teaching with Technology” interim class earlier that day. She had us visit The Network Effect, a website that gives you a set amount of time to view the page based on the life expectancy of the country you live in. After 7 minutes and 50 seconds had passed, she encouraged us to write down our reflections on the experience.

For a lot of my classmates, and for me, the website made us think of how much time we spend on the internet and how much content we are constantly submerged in. Often times, discussions like this take on a negative tone as people feel guilty for the time they spend scrolling and not working/playing/learning/praying in real life.

I don’t agree with my classmates wholeheartedly. Sure, maybe I spend too much time browsing Facebook and not whittling down my ever-expanding to-read list. But I also get to read about recent Calvin graduates’ thoughts about everything under the sun and learn about small pieces of history, like this Twitter thread on how long it takes to be an effective farmhand, or listen to this podcast episode on a woman who was enslaved by George Washington (yes, that George Washington) and escaped.

Snippets of people’s lives filter through the screen into mine in a way that makes me constantly privy to but not often a part of their narrative. The internet fractures us and connects us in ways that were unthinkable years ago.

Technology continually distracts me from further wrestling with my faith, but it has also given me new ways to look at how I relate to God. Just recently I learned about the practice of spaced repetition and have started using the strategy to memorize my mom’s favorite psalm and one of my favorite poems. I spend time on my phone flipping cards and trying to remember verses, but now those words are woven into my day and come to my mind more and more.

More than feeling guilty over the time we spend on the internet and not interacting directly with the real world, or hand-wringing about how our communication skills are going down the tubes due to Twitter’s tendency to mudsling, I think we should to accept that people connect both through the internet and outside of the internet.

The connections cultivated through social media serve a different purpose than conversations with friends in coffee shops. Sometimes you need the world wide web—to listen to stories framed by Ira Glass, find fans of the obscure video game you love, or educate yourself on the current political discourse. Sometimes you need the world—to be spontaneous and throw a frisbee around, check out the new art exhibit, or sink a few hours into personal reflection.

Sometimes you need neither—instead, turn off the podcast, walk the rest of the way home, and write the blog post that has sprung forth from your head. It’s all a balancing act.

Alexandra Johnson

Alexandra Johnson is a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She will graduate in May with a degree in English education. A native of Massachusetts, she has recently learned to love the cloudy Michigan skies and plans on teaching in the Grand Rapids area for at least a year or so. She loves reading Young Adult novels, talking to people about their writing (which is what I did when I worked at the Rhetoric Center at Calvin), trying out new recipes (especially vegetarian ones) and watching Christmas movies. In the transition from student to teacher, she hopes to learn more about seeking justice in education and engaging students to become lifelong learners and readers. She adds, “So send me some book recommendations!”

4 Comments

  • Kent says:

    Alexandra, thank you for the vibrant writing and refreshing take on our current reality. Best wishes in your teaching endeavors. It will be a wonderful platform to build priceless relationships with thousands of students and hundreds of colleagues. Have them read To Kill a Mockingbird as well as Freak the Mighty.

  • Karl says:

    Be sure to read READING WITH PATRICK!

  • Sherrill Meenen says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject. I have learned not to make excuses for the time I spend on the internet. Not able to get out much it is a means for me to stay connected . Your grandma Barb is a dear friend of mine. Her heart must be bursting with love and pride to see your article printed here. Blessings as you go forward.

  • Joy Anema says:

    I also love the ways in which the Internet helps us stay connected worldwide. And your grandma Barb is also a dear friend from our New Jersey days when I had the privilege of volunteering at Northside Chapel and also babysitting for your mom and sibs. I am so sorry for the passing of your mom but trust that God is giving you his peace.

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