This week the Church of England launched its Alexa skill, “enabling millions of users to ask the Church of England for prayers, explanations of the Christian faith and location-based information about local church events and services.”
While on the one hand it is quite startling that the C of E has got ahead of the game I have reservations about a piece of consumer based technology being the answer to our declining numbers.
Alexa and all related tech “solutions” are sold to us on the basis that effort equals friction and our lives are infinitely better off without friction. “Frictionless living” is the new concept entering our vocabulary. Frictionless solutions are to be found in business, retail, design, education, politics and economics with the aim of lowering transaction costs, improving speed and efficiency which serves the greater good. We look for efficiency in shopping, eating, moving ourselves around and we are told that technology, apps and digital toolkits will improve the quality of our lives by freeing up more time to do the things we really want to do.
While there are undoubted positives to a more efficient life, an uncritical absorption of the frictionless concept into our lives is something Christians should be wary of. Do we want to buy into a commercial solution for instant gratification that has significant reductionist tendencies and a removal overall of choice and creativity? Technology puts in front of us what it thinks we most want, but is this what we most need and is this what most helps us to grow as individuals?
In many respects Christianity is a celebration of friction – all those messy interactions between people, all those instances of waiting on an answer to prayer; all those times of searching for an understanding of God and his saving work in our lives: none of this is possible without friction. Matthew 16:24 ThenJesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. This surely is the antithesis of the frictionless life.
Perhaps we should look to the benefits of friction, or we could call them “fruits of friction” – I think Paul got there first when he spoke of such things as kindness, patience, gentleness, peace, self-control. These are the things we need to celebrate and promote. These should be fruits that are self evident in our lives and in our churches. Perhaps this is where we should be putting our energy next?