Sacred spaces in a secular world

Way back when, before the internet and before the industrial revolution, religion proliferated. Around the world, everyone believed in something, and everyone demonstrated the strength of their faith by visiting sacred spaces. They frequented churches, chapels, temples, meeting places, prayer rooms, meditation spaces, retreats, and monasteries.

But now, we live in the networked world, and religion is less a social necessity and more a personal choice to be shared or concealed as we see fit. And with this declining prominence of religion we’re seeing the decay of sacred spaces. The great churches and cathedrals are no longer places of worship, they’re tourist attractions. Sacred spaces are no longer stalwarts of our communities and integral parts of our daily existence, they’re remnants of past cultures.

So as we continue to move away from socially practised religion and into a more privately religious world, what’s going to happen to sacred spaces? Are they going to continue on the path they’re on and die out? Will their use adapt and evolve? Or will the very nature of what we call sacred change? I think, like religion itself, the meaning and use of sacred spaces is going to change, rather than cease to exist altogether.

What is the single thing that ties together the lives of all people in the developed world? It’s not language, wealth or ideology, but connection. We’re all wired up to, and becoming increasingly dependent upon, the functioning of the internet and the global network. Now, I’m not going to lament or argue against such dependency. Instead, I want to explore how sacred spaces manifest themselves in this interconnected, interdependent world. 

In a world dominated by religion, sacred spaces were considered as hearts of religion. As places you go to immerse yourself in your faith and belief. In a world dominated by the internet and constant-connectedness, our sacred spaces will have a different function. Rather than spaces in which we worship at the altar, they will be spaces in which we can escape. In a world of networks, in the connected world, sacred spaces are where we go to disconnect.

It’s already happening. People take technology sabbaths. Limitations are imposed on access to social media and the web by tools like StayFocused and Freedom while we work. It’s becoming increasingly taboo to, not only be on your phone, but to have it in sight at all at the dinner table. There’s studies that show that even having a phone in sight disrupts the intensity of connection between individuals. 

People ban screens in their bedrooms, understanding the negative effect they have on sleep and circadian rhythms, but also realising that the bedroom is somewhere where the tendrils of tech shouldn’t be allowed to reach. Single-tasking—a word whose very existence is owed to the proliferation of the internet—is becoming an actual factor in productivity. We create rituals and systems which force us to focus on one thing at a time—reading, writing, creating, conversing—and prevent us from submitting to the allure of exploring online. 

In the networked world, sacred spaces aren’t grand cathedrals or candle-lit altars. Sacred spaces are disconnected spaces. Sacred activities become those activities performed in absence of connection to the global network. 

In the networked world, the connected world, the only sacred thing is disconnection.