Freemasonry and Technology
Reprinted with permission from the Masonic Service Association of North America.
Short Talk Bulletin Vol.93 No.10
Brother Fairbairn is a Past Master and Past Secretary of Perfection Lodge #616 in St. Catharines, in the Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario. He is a Past District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Quebec. This article was published in the Fall, 2013 issue of the Ontario Mason Magazine and is reprinted with permission.
There are several things that bother me about technology; or perhaps more specifically, the way that we are using it.
When I studied computer programming back in 1969, my fellow students and I would visualize the impact that technology would have on our future: I remember one of my classmates saying: "By the time we're 35, we will probably only be working 15 hours per week – computers will be doing most of the work for us."
I spent 37 years working in the software technology field. In the first few years I worked about 35 hours per week (summer hours) and had time to play 9 holes of golf before dinner; in the last few years, prior to retirement, I worked 50-60 hours per week, and played little or no golf.
Instead of technology reducing our work hours, it has increased them - there is no longer any downtime - everything is moving faster. Everything and everyone is available, and is expected to be available, all of the time.
I once served as Lodge Secretary to a young Master who was up-to-date with the latest technology. He would demonstrate how easy and convenient it was to run MS Office applications from his Blackberry tablet for example. Although he had the latest technology, it was necessary to remind him every month for his message for the summons. It seemed like he didn't plan, but worked in a "reactive" mode - if you wanted to get his attention, you needed to put yourself in his high-priority queue - then he would react.
He once told me that he was away from work for 3 days and when he returned he had over 600 emails. One has to question - how many of these 600 emails were important? And is the time spent sorting/prioritizing/filing and cleaning up these emails an effective use of time? Another important question is: if we are continuously reacting to outside events, to the priorities of others, how can we ourselves be creative, let alone productive?
We are in effect living our lives reacting to others. Whatever happened to planning our day? It has been my experience that organizations provide training on how to use technology, but they provide little guidance on technology etiquette. Who needs to be copied on an email? What is the cost of disturbing someone unnecessarily? By the way, if you wish to reduce the amount of email you receive, there is one rule of thumb - send out fewer emails.
I recently viewed a short video titled, "Irrelevance." It was put out by AFA, the Association of Fraternity Advisors and was being viewed in Masonic circles. It stated, for example, that mimes are irrelevant, because of clowns (clowns talk, and thus are better).
The video concluded that if we want the attention of the younger generation we must be relevant to them, and in order for our organization to survive we must adapt and change with the world. The younger generation has access to so much information, but less and less time to make sense of all those options. Therefore, to be relevant, we must act quickly to provide sensible answers to their questions.
This video made me think: does Freemasonry need to change in order to be relevant in today's high tech, fast track world? I believe NOT - in fact I believe that we are relevant because we are different.
I think that it's OK to use a responsible level of Social Media - to perhaps locate and foster new potential members, or network professionally or learn from a community of Masons. But our beliefs, our ritual and our practices are fine the way they are, and have always been.
It is generally accepted that the pace of life and its stresses will get even more hectic than at present. Although people may be able to cope with this intellectually, I question if many can cope with it emotionally, with the Internet bombarding us with a mass of ethical and unethical information in the privacy of our own homes.
Brother Michael Yaxley, President of the Board of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of Tasmania, wrote: "Society does have a need for a body such as Freemasonry. I believe that this need will increase rather than decrease. In the next century the work place will not offer fellowship and camaraderie sufficient to satisfy the social instincts that people have. Many people will work at home, linked to the office by computer and telephone. Others will work in an office with complex but nevertheless inanimate equipment. The irony of the Age of Communication is that people spend, and will spend, more time by themselves."
When I became a Freemason, one of my first impressions was that attending lodge was like being in a different world, and that was more than 40 years ago. When I was hectically working in the last years of my career, I would be better rested in the morning if I attended lodge the night before, even if I arrived home late. I believe that chatting in chat rooms, engaging on Facebook, or tweeting on Twitter does not provide the emotional experience that is needed, and that our lodges provide. Brethren, may our lodges remain a safe haven and be that emotional connection that the younger generation needs, and may our Brotherhood continue to be relevant until time shall be no more.