Full Disclosure: Because today’s technologies have a forming influence on our spiritual, emotional, and psychological “shape,” I’ve stubbornly resisted getting a smartphone, preferring instead my now-ancient flip phone. We’ve decided to not have cable TV in our home, “screen time” in general is limited, and I have a teenage daughter who saw such profound impact on her friendships when cell phones entered the picture that she refuses to use one. For years my younger daughter (11-years-old) has begged us to get her a phone or an iPod Touch or an iPad or a Kindle Fire—anything that would give her the connectivity that all her friends have—but we’ve said no (for now). I’m very aware that some parents in my neighborhood suspect we’re closet Amish—or that there’s a very good chance we’ve chosen to communicate by smoke signal.
But we’ve quickly become an over-connected culture, and it’s having profound leveraging impact on our ability to “be still and know that I am God.” Knowing Jesus intimately is the linchpin for everything we are and everything we do in life. It’s the 4/5 of the iceberg that’s under water—the foundation for our impact in relationships and for our role in advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. And our addiction to our technologies—our inability to master them, but instead be mastered by them—is a diabolical wrecking ball that has already had a more far-reaching impact on our culture’s healthy future than global warming has had.
The term “over-connected” is not, of course, a neutral statement. We haven’t yet eradicated AIDS or cancer or even leprosy, but the “smartphone generation” is well on its way to eradicating boredom, perhaps the chief complaint of childhood. Today’s kids use technology to self-medicate their boredom, as a powerful identity-building “crutch,” and as a kind of “sonar” for moving through the uncertain landscape of adolescence. What’s certain is they’re changing the nature of our relationships—for good and for bad. We’ve never met an unplanned moment that our smartphone can’t conquer.
My starting place for engaging these realities is simple: “The truth will set you free.” But you have to be willing to look at the truth full-faced. Let’s look at the truth for a bit, without worrying about the ramifications…
• Neil Postman, the great media thinker and author, says: “Technological change is ecological, not additive or subtractive.” Our “ecology” forms us…So what are we (and our kids) being formed into by our technological/ecological environment?
• Our role is to reject passivity at every corner. We are to be “in the world, but not of the world.” When we live in the spirit of Jesus, we are active participants in our cultural ecology, but moving with a Kingdom of God mindset—as sojourners, not natives…Knowledge is power, so our goal is to know the truth, then act out of it.
• Multi-tasking is a myth—it’s not possible for the brain to “multi-task,” in the way we commonly think of that term. Instead, we “rapid task-switch.” The result is something researchers call “dual-task interference”—our brain bottlenecks, and the efficiency and quality of our brain’s performance deteriorates. Over-connectedness to technology continuously and persistently scatters our attention—we pay partial attention, continuously.
• Over-connectedness to technology changes the way we relate. It’s a powerful intrusion into, and filter for, our relationships. We have become a culture that has far more “surface” connections than at any time in history, but have simultaneously become the most disconnected and isolated culture in history.
• All technologies are powerful tools, so our challenge is to treat them like the chainsaws they are. Would you give children a chainsaw to use, then tell them to just figure out how to use it without harming themselves? Once we recognize the power of the tool, and what it can do, our response to our kids using that tool should equate with what we know.
• Technology is changing our ecological environment in sweeping ways. Researchers are discovering that our new technologies help us with efficiency, speed, creativity, and connectivity. But they are also making us shallow people. Dr. David Meyer (of the University of Michigan’s Cognition and Perception Program) says this: “We’re facing a crisis of attention that is only going to get worse.” He compares our lack of understanding the impact of technology to our lack of understanding the impact of smoking years ago.
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). We’re called to live in freedom, for the sake of the Kingdom, and that means we must be aware of what enslaves us and resist it, by all means.