By Tom Ehrich

I got excited last week about a new iPad app for checking out library books online.

No $13 e-book fee to Amazon or Apple. No trips to my local branch. Just browse the New York Public Library online, download and read.

Just one problem: not a single book that I wanted to read is available. The library has purchased only so many licenses per title. Each has a waiting list ranging from a dozen to almost 300.

In other words, technology by itself doesn’t solve the library’s basic funding problem or the challenge of serving a city of 8 million people.

Neither does technology improve our manners. I have joined several online discussion groups, hoping for interesting and informative dialog. Instead, the same people who give long-winded speeches at church meetings take over online forums. Bible-warriors and absolutists are similarly unrestrained. People bash each other with the glee that only anonymity can encourage.

Rather than give up on technology, I want to keep on learning how to make it work. The library solution, it seems, is to get on a host of waiting lists, and soon my pipeline will be full. The rudeness solution, it seems, is to affirm positive behavior and ignore the rude.

I’m 110% in favor of technology. In the church world where I work, technology is our new best friend. We have barely begun to tap its potential for broadening the reach of our faith communities and improving their effectiveness.

I also see, however, that sometimes a phone call is better than an email, a talk over coffee is better than an online forum, knowing the sound of a friend’s voice is better than recognizing their tiny photo on Facebook, and hearing each other’s prayers makes God seem closer.

Photo: I turned a corner in Central Park one summer’s day, and there was a man practicing his violin on a rock.