Breaking Ground: The Church and Cultural Renewal
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The ever-growing love for the online game Wordle has reached new heights. With over two million hits a day, the game that began in October 2021 has spread across countries and borders, and now even further than the English-speaking world. Recently acquired by the New York Times, many more internet users are jumping on to the Wordle bandwagon.
The concept is simple: guess a five-letter word in under six attempts. Players start with a word and then the game will reveal hints: correctly guessed letters show in a green tile, yellow tiles show correct letters in the wrong place and grey tiles for incorrect letters.
So why all the hype? Phrases like ‘global phenomenon’ and ‘cultural obsession’ have become common descriptions of the game, but the whiff of over-egged journalism often necessitates a certain level of scepticism. However, many suggest that simplicity is the answer: in a digital age of clickbait and targeted ads, the slick and simple mode of the game is a breath of fresh air. In fact, many have attributed the game’s success to its lack of pop-ups or email sign-ups; it exists for the enjoyment of players without hidden incentive or agenda. A rare rose among the thorns of daily internet traffic.
The game, of course, is also stimulating. It has brought together word nerds as well as maths heads to strategise over the best methods for finding the daily word in the shortest amount of time. ‘Arose’, for example, is a good starting point as it uses some of the most common letters in the English language (you’re welcome). But even more than this, there is a rare breed of game that can bring connection at a time when many are alone and isolated. Not only are we still feeling the effects of the pandemic, but we also know of the huge levels of loneliness reported in our society. Jonathan Knight at the New York Times summarised Wordle’s success: ‘The game has done what so few games have done: It has captured our collective imagination, and brought us all a little closer together.’ A remarkable achievement for the developer who simply created the game for him and his partner to play on their sofa.
Games, like so many other forms of play, don’t prioritise efficiency or productivity; they are simply there for the enjoyment of the moment – even more, a way of sharing that enjoyment with others. It seems that such moments of presence bring connection – and this taps into something deep within our nature as people. In journalist Johann Hari’s new book Stolen Focus, he describes the modern-day struggle to be fully present to a task. He cites an American study of college students that revealed the median time for focusing on a task was nineteen seconds, and that students also switched tasks every sixty-five seconds.
In the opening of the book, the author’s realisation of his inability to focus causes him to take a getaway road trip to the beach in order to escape his digital devices. He writes, ‘I stood there for a long time. There was something shocking to me about being so still – to be not scrolling, but static. I tried to remember the last time I had felt like this.’ For Hari, his mind was in information overload, a ‘rapid exhaustion of attention resources’.
His book then tracks his journey to reclaim focus amid the ‘attention crisis’. And the result? Connection and depth of relationship. While he readily admits that the journey to better focus is far from over – and the pandemic has certainly caused even more of a challenge to stay focused amid huge uncertainty – Hari has made practical changes to his life that forged deeper relationships. His time with his godchildren, for example, is characterised by free play rather than busyness, which creates a foundation for better focused activity. Improved sleep patterns mean that he is more attentive to the world around him, and practical methods of reducing his social media consumption means that his focus has increased by 15-20%.
Presence, or the full immersion in an activity – whether it be playing Wordle, watching a film, or completing a Profit & Loss costing at work – creates a sense of rightness and satisfaction. Some, including Hari, call it ‘flow’, but we also find it evidenced in the person of Jesus, the master of presence.
If you read any of the Gospels, you’ll quickly learn that Jesus had a lot of time for people. His presence with individuals and communities affirmed the goodness of close proximity to others. Likewise, people were so hungry for Jesus’ teaching that they flocked in crowds to be with him. On one occasion, the crowds were so strong that they were pressing in on Jesus and his disciples (Mark 5:24). But as a suffering woman of faith reached out to touch the Messiah, Jesus knew exactly what had happened. Despite the crowds demanding his attention, Jesus instantly knew someone had touched him with a faith that brought healing.
Jesus, our great high priest, shows us that being present in a moment has a huge significance. Jesus’ ministry was characterised by caring for people in a context where focus was given to the overtly powerful and wealthy. But Jesus, far from distracted by outward appearances, was entirely connected to his surroundings in a way that made him able to care for others. Presence not only brings focus on an individual level, but it forges connection on a collective level – both of which we crave as created beings in a shared world.
In a modern-day context of screens and pop-up notifications, it’s easy to fall into shallow relationships that lack true connection. It is imperative that we train ourselves as followers of Jesus for that which is wise: ‘For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding’ (Proverbs 2:6). Perhaps for us that means turning off the notifications on our phones or computers, sacrificing the time spent on an individual task at work to support a colleague in crisis, or spending uninterrupted time in the presence of children without having an ear attuned to the latest podcast or news bulletin.
It will take practice to deepen our focus when an entire economy is built on monetising our attention, but the ‘meteoric’ rise of Wordle shows us that our hearts and minds are ready for the task: let’s play more.
Editor at Hodder Faith and LICC Board member