Is Google Calendar My God?

What did we do before Google calendar?  No fewer than 12 different calendars help me coordinate everything from my children’s sports teams to my church’s regular meetings to my own personal appointments. And yes, in a small home with seven people, even my time to shower is reserved on Google calendar.

This technology touches many points of my life.  I can organize and plan my personal time in far more efficient ways than before. I can coordinate meetings and social events for precise times on distant dates. Communities I’m in can access each other’s schedules, allowing a new kind of collaboration and creative synergy.

My life would not work the same without Google calendar. Perhaps this is why one blogger quipped, “When Google changed their calendar interface, I’d take a day off to recover from the shock, but I’d have to use the calendar to schedule it.”

Of course, calendars themselves aren’t modern inventions.  The calendar is one of the oldest and most universal of technological achievements. Cultures across time and geography created or adopted some kind of calendar in response to their needs.

Different cultures create different calendars for different purposes, but the rhythms by which every calendar operates are the same. God created them on the fourth day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights– the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night– and the stars.     — Genesis 1:14-16

Our individual experience, communities, and societies run in rhythm. We live, work, play, and relate according to two basic cycles. No technology has changed it. No society has escaped it. No individual is immune to it. Our lives unfold over the course of a day. Our days cycle through the months of a year.

I’m fortunate enough to enjoy my work. Occasionally, I enjoy work so much so, I manage to lose myself in it. Building things from wood, coding programs, and playing music with a group can all create a flow where time seems to stop.

At some point, my flow is interrupted, because the light has faded, my hunger demands attention, or I’m simply exhausted. The rhythm of the day controls my life. I simply can’t escape it.

Genesis uncovers the origin of that rhythm and reveals the one who set it into motion. The story is clear: God created those predictable rhythms, which rule our lives by creating the physical objects responsible for them.

The creation account of the sun, moon, and stars explains them as responsible for signs, seasons, days, and years. This is not simply the backstory of physical entities. In these verses, we witness the establishment of the patterns by which all of the earth experiences time. You could say on the fourth day, God created time itself.

In a curious detail of this account, none of the names of these celestial objects appear in the narrative. Neither the sun, moon, nor any stars are referred to by their common titles.

Most ancient cultures at the time this story was written associated heavenly objects with gods. You can hardly blame them. With these entities responsible for so much of everyday existence, it’s reasonable to conclude they are powers above humans. Ancient stargazers didn’t just title the objects in the sky, they named them as powerful deities.

The account in Genesis avoids those names. These are not gods who rule human’s lives. On the contrary, they are mere creations of the one true God. They may rule the day and the night. But they only do so as servants of the One who spoke them into being.

What a powerful message for recipients of this story! We are not ruled by the sun and the moon. Our God created them as part of the creation, with certain responsibilities to fulfill, in the same way that we will eventually read of our own creation and our own responsibilities.

As cultures around the world developed technology to manage their experience of time, they looked to these celestial objects in one way or another. The first known calendar was based on the cycles of the moon in ancient Sumeria around the 21st century BCE. Subsequent calendars would attempt to capture the rhythm of the sun. In fact, every calendar we know of is based on the sun, the moon or some combination of the two.

Calendars have been created to manage agricultural efforts, financial transactions, civil authority  structures, community events, and the festivals of religious life. As cultures encountered each other, they were forced to find ways to adapt their calendar to others to accommodate trade, exchange governmental relations, or forge new family ties.

While we create calendars out of a desire to organize time, we cannot actually exert any influence over its relentless march. But if we can label it, categorize it, and define it, then perhaps, we can plan our lives and prepare for what is likely to come.

In the middle of writing this, a colleague walked into my office, fell onto my couch and declared, “We need to create a calendar.” Events were falling through the cracks, responsibilities were unclear, and last-minute efforts had become the operating norm. A calendar would solve these problems.

As a whole calendars are good. But there is a danger. Occasionally our desire to control time goes awry. Instead of ruling our time, we find that our calendars rule over us.

When I worked in a software company, everyone had access to each other’s calendar. There was no question what would happen to a timeslot on my calendar that remained free. Someone would inevitably fill it with a meeting. My time was not my own.

Today I mostly fill my own calendar. And yet I still feel it takes on a life of its own. Like an unforgiving commander, my calendar will not accept excuses or listen to explanations. I may have created my schedule, but I often feel like a slave to it’s whims.

I find myself in a similar state as my ancient ancestors. The sun and moon act as gods over my life. And they can be capricious in their dealings with humanity.

How do we respond to harsh dictators? What is our natural reaction to being controlled and manipulated? We rebel, of course. The human race has a predictable response to gods, despots, and bosses. We hate to serve. So we revolt.

My career in software began at the beginning of the hope for a 24-hour development cycle. Teams working around the world could collaborate on projects according to their respective time zones. The engine of productivity would follow the passage of the sun around our globe. Work would never stop.

Almost two decades later, optimism for a true 24-hour work cycle is fading. The handshakes between teams are too difficult, and communication errors lead to lower efficiency. Companies are discovering the simple truths recorded thousands of years ago in Genesis. The rhythms of life are not gods to be escaped, but gifts to be enjoyed.

As is often the case, we find ourselves caught between two extremes. Either we find ourselves falling down before the familiar gods of time or standing up in protest to their mastery.

The account in Genesis frees us from both of these failures. We are not ruled by time, neither do we need to escape it. We can live in concert with the rhythms of our world.

It may not immediately be apparent that creating a collaborative calendar has deep moral questions. But any technology that so drastically changes our individual experience, mediates our relationships and forms the basis for our communities yields enormous power.

How then can technology help us to maintain our place within the rhythms of time? Is it possible to create technology that fosters a deeper connection to the present? Can a calendar help us to find our place within the flow of time rather than helping us to beat the clock? Can we create technology that helps to serve our purposes instead of placing us in submission?

We have an important task. Let’s schedule a meeting to talk about it.

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