Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Book Review: The Scent of Lemons

The Scent of Lemons: Technology and relationships in the age of Facebook written by Jonah Lynch and published by Darton, Longman, and Todd (2012) is eloquently written. The flow of the writing entices you in and paints an almost romantic picture of our relationship with technology. The Internet and in particular social media, be it Facebook, twitter, or indeed blogging, have changed our world in the way we communicate; so to has the introduction of the mobile phone. The book has an interesting title and to explain why it was chosen Lynch writes in his preface:

But what do lemons have to do with technology? A lemon fresh from the tree has a rough skin. The better the tree has been cared for, the rougher it is. It's a strange roughness, because if you squeeze a little, a perfumed oil comes out and makes the skin suddenly smooth to the touch. And then there's that wonderful sour juice, so good on fish and oysters, in summertime drinks and in a hot cup of tea! Touch, scent, taste. Three of the five senses cannot be transmitted through technology. Three-fifths of reality, sixty per cent.

Lynch invites us to notice and give time to developing the remaining sixty per cent in our own relationships. He argues, there is a parental and older sibling responsibility to notice and reflect on the changes the internet brings to our relationships and society, to see the warning signs and offer guidance to those caught up in the change who have no experience of a pre-internet age. So how has technology, and in particular the internet, profoundly influenced every part of our daily lives? This needs more unpacking by Lynch to support his thesis of how it has changed relationships. Those of us who are already somewhat addicted to social media, writing a status update or tweeting our every move, may already know but there is still a readership who do not understand social media and if they are to offer guidance to their children they need educating.

Lynch writes from a Christian perspective and calls for a life balance where technology is embraced but social media, and the like, does not dominate relationships or replace face to face meetings. In the chapter 'A Nerd's Life' Lynch talks of his experience and love of technology, as well as his sense of responsibility as an educator and priest to reflect and share his concerns. For example, his concern for his work habits: its fast pace, the immediate response of email, and distraction in prayer. (Prayer requires a much slower rhythm of life and God's response cannot be hurried.) As well as the intrusion of mobile phone calls that have invaded places of relaxation, such as train journeys and the theatre, and sacred spaces such as the church. A 'technology fast' is one of the tools he offers to help safeguard relationships and one that Lynch advocated to students of his seminary. Having recently trained for Baptist ministry, alongside Anglican ordinands, I do not think a complete 'technological fast' would be practically possible, but I like the concept.

As someone who loves well written books and social media I enjoyed The Scent of Lemons. It is however, more of an overview of the subject matter, rather than an in-depth unpacking of Lynch's thesis. I hope Lynch continues to explore and write more on what he acknowledges are, 'his incomplete thoughts.' With social media still in its infancy opportunity presents itself for further study in this particular area. Psalm 34 says, 'Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.' Lynch calls the world to wake up and smell the lemons before we loose our senses. A timely written book.