I don’t do much state-of-the-art technology for myself. I bought my son a new set of wireless ear buds as an early Christmas present. He kindly bequeathed on me his old pair. He showed me how to store them in their charging case, and explained that the case itself would have to be plugged into the charger from time to time.
While watching him browse the latest models of wireless ear buds at the store (so many!), I reflected on how I had been meaning to get a Bluetooth speaker so that I could listen to Spotify at home without a headset. So we left the store with a Bluetooth speaker as well. My son rigged it up so that it connected to my phone, and explained that it would have to be plugged into the charger from time to time.
So now, the charger I keep on the kitchen counter has to rotate between my phone, the Petzl headlamp I use for my pre-dawn runs, my new little wireless earbud case, and this Bluetooth speaker. So far, so good.
I don’t really care about wireless ear buds. I’ve never found the wired ones irritating. However, it turns out they tuck pretty well under my hat for those cold weather runs. All of this has got me thinking about energy. My little family of 3 sustains its middle-class lifestyle by tapping into an enormous, elaborate, energy infrastructure that operates behind the scenes. It’s in the meeting of our devices and this infrastructure that our lifestyle is possible. So we plug in. We buy gas, we pay for electricity, we pay for natural gas, and in all these touches of buttons and flickings of switches, we get the first-world and probably delusionally false sense that we will always be able to get this energy any time we need it.
Have you ever stopped to think what would happen if this infrastructure stopped?
It’s just a thought experiment (at this point). Imagine: you can’t use your phone to call your kids and your spouse and find out where they are, if they are okay, and issue instructions on how to meet up. You can’t drive any farther than you already have gas in your tank, so you need to be prudent about your next steps. You can’t get heat, pay for the food at the store, or access any basic services at all. Presbyterian pastor David Williams imagines what would happen here in his tender and scary futuristic novel, When the English Fall. The question he grapples with is, would people of faith be able to preserve their Christian values in the mayhem and terror that would ensue? As I read it, I had to ask myself, how would I come out in such a scenario? Would my charity, my generosity, my hope, my kindness, my serenity hold up? Maybe. Equally possible not so much.
German philosopher Martin Heidegger coined a term for all this energy awaiting our plug-ins. He called it “standing reserve.” Standing reserve is the notion that the energy you need is standing ready for you to draw on it. The problem with the standing reserve model is that it is very easy for humans to turn themselves into standing reserve. One employee quits or is fired? No problem, there is a list of people who have submitted resumes for that position, a standing reserve. It’s a way of thinking about people that is primarily focused on plugging people into the energy infrastructure. I have been noticing it more and more.
Can I use this infrastructure as a metaphor? Call it to mind? Let it remind me of something much more important? It’s all about the way we interface with what we need to carry on. Jesus, sustain me. Source me. Shape my interface more and more to You. New Year’s resolution: every time I plug something into that silly cord on my counter, I will try to recall You to mind.
Claudia Hauer teaches at the college level, and loves watching young people turning into adults. She had an overwhelming conversion experience 5 years ago and is just learning to tell her faith story. She lives under the Rocky Mountains and loves to hike, run, and cook, and can usually be found with a book in her hands and a cup of coffee nearby.