When Good Things Become Bad: Technology

A number of years ago, after leaving an unhealthy church situation, I was invited to serve on staff at a larger church that, despite not really needing another pastor, wanted to care for me. I was appointed pastoral oversight of the media/technology department of the church, which was great because I knew how to successfully check my email. I am the least tech-savvy young adult that I know. Yet, despite this reality I have found technology ever entwined with my life. Technology is a valuable tool but, its pervasiveness has made it a major part of so much of the world in which most of us live, and move, and have our being. We must all be highly conscious of the all-consuming tendency of technology. Technology becomes bad when it distracts us from what is most important.

The advances in and ubiquity of technology have created an entire realm of potential problems that we are only now beginning to realize. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists “Internet or Computer Addiction” as a disorder needing further study. The amount of digital consumption is hard to capture because of the diverse means by which we consume online media. The data we do have is probably on the low end of the spectrum, but it’s scary enough. The average person checks their iPhone every 3.4 minutes of their waking life (“We are Hopelessly Hooked,” Jacob Weisberg). Seventy percent of users are on Facebook for 50 minutes every day (“Facebook Has 50 Minutes of Your Time Each Day,” James Stewart). Technology can be a valuable tool, and it provides us with many wonderful benefits. In fact a theology of technology will want to recognize the ways in which technology advances can attempt to push back the consequences of the fall in positive ways. The danger of technology lies in the excessive use of it; the compulsive tendency to check our phones, to get on Facebook, to play games, to scour the Internet when we have a few moments of spare time.

Determining what is “excessive” is somewhat difficult because it can contain an element of subjectivity. When do you cross the line from general use to problematic use of technology? Part of the answer can be found by evaluating the consequences of personal digital consumption. Excessive use of computers have been shown to have noticeable negative consequences. Among them are emotional instability. Research has demonstrated a strong correlation between a person’s consumption of social media, for example, and their experience of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Causation is hard to prove, but the correlation is strong and the logic seems reasonable. Furthermore, the excessive use of computers have been shown to impact the brain development of children, general mood of all, and eye sight. Excessive use has emotional and physiological implications, then.

From a Christian perspective, perhaps one of the more disconcerting issues is the level of distraction that technological media consumption provides. Christians throughout the centuries have recognized the significant importance of personal reflection. The Scriptures invite us to “make [our] calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10), to “examine [ourselves] and see whether we are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5), and to “test [our] own work” (Gal. 6:4). In fact many of the commands of Scripture require us to be self-evaluative and devoted to personal reflection. We are also to reflect on the needs of others and seek how we might share in their interests, share in their joys and sorrows, and meet their needs. This requires silence, time, and patience, something our modern digitally connected world does not afford us. As Alan Noble has said:

But for the twenty-first century person in an affluent country like the United States, the momentum of life that so often discourages us from stopping to take our bearings is magnified dramatically by the constant hum of portable electronic entertainment, personalized for our interests and desires and delivered over high-speed Internet…This is the electronic buzz of the twenty-first century. And it is suffocating. (Disruptive Witness, 15)

Technology affords us the ability to keep the eternal, the Spiritual, and the condemning at bay. If we don’t want to acknowledge our spiritual weakness, moral failing, or relational discord, we don’t have to. We can simply surf the web, browse Facebook, or play an iOS game.

It’s not that we always intentionally avoid these spiritual realities, and the subtlety of technological distraction is perhaps its most pernicious element. Technology has the potential to lull us into sleep, making us forget that life is but a breath and that a world of spiritual priorities calls our attention. In the parable of the seeds Jesus describes the seed that was choked out by the concerns of this world. We read:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. (Matt. 13:22)

While the passage is speaking directly about the gospel, the principle that the temporal distracts us from the Spiritual applies across the board to all people. Christians must be conscious of our consumptive habits. Does our use of technology rob us of an eternal perspective? It might be time to test yourself.

If the Bible invites us to be self-reflective then let us take time to evaluate our technological use. The intent of the following self-evaluation is not to be condemning, but to help us think about how our computer usage might be harming us or helping us. Answer the following questions honesty and evaluate the nature of your relationship to technological devices:

  1. Do I lose track of time while using the internet or mobile devices?
  2. Would I be embarrassed to share with others how much time I spend on the internet or mobile devices? Would I be ashamed to describe what I do on the internet or my mobile devices?
  3. Have I tried to diminish the amount of time I spend on the internet or mobile devices and found it very challenging?
  4. Does it cause me stress or anxiety when I am not able to get online?
  5. Do I think about things on the Internet even when I am not online?
  6. Do I use the Internet or mobile devices in situations where it is considered inappropriate (while in class, at funerals, during church, during dinner with friends/family, etc.)?
  7. Have others express concern about my use of the internet or mobile devices?
  8. Is the use of the internet or mobile devices causing a strain on my relationships, creating isolation, or becoming a deterrent to social interaction?
  9. Is my use of the internet keeping me from accomplishing important tasks?
  10. Is my Internet or mobile device usage honoring to God? Why or why not?

Comments

  1. Just an outstanding article, I am starting to implement leaving my phone in my basket with my wallet when I walk in from work. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, instituted a two hour limit on their kids phones. O Lord help us.

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