In the 1990s, with the emergence of rapid communication technologies, the current abbott at the Abbey of the Genesee reminisces of a time when only telephones and the occasional fax were used at the abbey. Then, slowly, e-mail became incorporated into the logistical functions of the abbey, followed by the internet. As the abbott says, “the rest is history.” He then describes the way in which fast-paced technology has “put a pressure on the contemplative life,” stating that rapid communication is not always conducive to the principle of leisure that the brotherhood values so deeply. He concludes, however, by stating that “you have to live in the times you live in.”
The community has become less isolated due to the use of technology. Slower forms of communication have been phased-out, indirectly forcing the community to adapt to the times by using faster communication technologies. It is no longer acceptable to wait weeks for responses from this community, as it would be seen as unprofessional in the outside world.
Changes in the Sense of Time
The father at the abbey mentions how using the internet can impact the time, spaciousness, and freedoms of monastic life. Although there are still the same amount of hours in the day as there were before the monks began using the Internet, the father describes how “your mind gets worked up and scattered and you’re skimming from one thing to the next” when using the internet and that time seems to move much more quickly in this form of reading. The “habits of attention” associated with internet use can be, as the abbey’s father says, “antithetical…to the slow, ruminative reading that characterizes monastic practice.”
Although the monks have adapted with regard to their communication with the rest of the world, they still enforce restrictions on certain types of technology if they do not promise to benefit the community’s principles. Television and radio, for instance, are not at all accessible at the abbey because the content on these forms of media are much harder to control. By thoughtfully choosing which technology is allowed into the community, the members are less vulnerable to the negative impacts technology can sometimes have on daily life for those outside of the community. The community hopes to reduce distraction from monastic principles as much as possible to keep members focused on their ultimate devotion to their faith.
The video below is a compilation of interviews with monks in which they describe the ways in which technological advances have effected their community. For site visitors with hearing impairments, please feel free to utilize the closed captioning option on the YouTube bar.