Technology and Us: Who is Consuming Whom?
We all have had those unexpected epiphanies, moments when we realize we have a problem. Mine came through a casual conversation one night with my husband.
He was telling me a story while packing his gym bag, and I was laying on the bed, looking at my phone. I don’t remember what the big deal was with whatever I saw on my screen. Was I scrolling social media or checking my email? Responding to a text message or perusing the news app? I don’t recall. I just remember my eyes being glued to the screen while Trey talked away in the background. I imagine I must have looked a little bit like Sméagol from Lord of the Rings with his ring, my face lit up to an unnatural blue by the screen's artificial light.
It went on like this for a few minutes, but I wasn’t really keeping track of time. At last, I heard a question bouncing around in the background of my mind, kind of like elevator music we know is there but hardly register in our consciences.
“Kara, are you listening? Kara!”
Like a swimmer bubbling to the surface from a deep water dive, I found myself being pulled to the surface of reality against my will, the force of human relationship drawing me out of my shell. I peeled my eyes from the screen and looked to Trey, the blank expression on my face answering his question for me. No, I had not been listening.
I knew in that moment I had missed something, a story of importance. I missed it because I had been in a trance-like state, willingly sucked into the mind-numbing world of technology. What made the realization even more painful was the fact that I had been absentmindedly attending to Trey’s conversation. Without even recognizing I was doing this, I had offered him an occasional nod of the head or “mm-hm” to encourage his talking, all the while not listening in the least.
I had a problem, but I knew it was more than that. It was a spiritual stronghold, and this realization both horrified and humbled me.
I’ve struggled with this knowledge for a while. In fact, I’ve wrestled endlessly over technology’s role in my life. Last October, for instance, Trey and I took a break from Facebook for the month. While it was difficult initially, we eventually found great freedom. What resulted that month wasn’t just a break from social media, but a break from our phones in general. We checked them less and listened more. Our minds were clearer, our thoughts were deeper, and our conversations were more meaningful. More importantly, both of us found our relationships with the Lord to be of a richer quality.
When the month passed, we decided to ease back into social media. “We’ve changed,” we thought. I established some boundaries for myself, and all was good…for a while. But slowly, my compulsion to turn to the phone at every moment slipped back into my life, but with greater vigor this time. Like ivy growing on the side of the house, my technology consumption increasingly crept into more and more minutes of my day. By the time I realized the consuming problem I had once again, the ivy was in the foundation of my home.
I share this because I know I’m not the only one. All I have to do is look into the vehicles next to me on the highway to know this is true. We speed down the interstate with eyes glued to a screen, foolishly believing ourselves to be invincible, but at what cost? Wherever we are — restaurants, stores, the pick-up line at school, church, or even home — the evidence is ever before us. Ours is a culture plagued by these spiritual strongholds brought on by technology.
We call ourselves consumers of technology, but I have to wonder: who is the one really doing the consuming?
I look around me to see people who hardly register they are in the presence of others. Who are these hollow-eyed people who rarely engage meaningfully with those around them? Who are these shallow human beings, with ears never really listening and heads bent down, staring into their devices, while life passes them by? Is it really us?
If you’re like me, you’re aware of the problem, and you find yourself behaving sort of like a yo-yo. You set boundaries and find accountability, and you do well for a season. But the pull of the string always jerks you back.
This isn’t simply a spiritual issue affecting Christians; this is an issue that concerns both the secular and the sacred. Over the last several years, there has been a surge in research over how technology is literally changing our brains’ structures. Those in medical and psychological fields alike warn of the addictive danger technology poses to our society. The dangers technology poses to our children is especially alarming.
I’m not writing this post today to discuss the plethora of research, though. There are many great articles and books already written on this topic. My purpose is to delve more deeply into the spiritual matter of technology, by asking this question:
Can a Christ follower consume technology without being consumed by technology.
The short answer, of course, is yes. We know from Romans 8:37-39 that “…in all these things we are more than conquerors…” because of Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate us from His love, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to overcome the temptations of this world.
Practically, though, how do we overcome? The unique thing about technology is that we cannot simply put it out of our lives and avoid it, like an alcoholic might walk away from the throes of the drink. Technology has become fully-integrated into our world, a necessary evil. There are steps we can take to reduce our interaction with technology, but we cannot abstain completely.
As I’ve searched my heart, talked with others, and prayed through this issue, I’ve come to the realization that technology’s role in our lives will be fluid, meaning we will constantly need to evaluate and reevaluate ourselves. Scripture is obviously absent of any clear directives on technology itself, but it does provide many clear indicators on when an activity, thought, or habit might be sinful. For today, I’d like to offer these questions to help us all evaluate whether technology is a tool or an idol in our lives:
Does your recreational use of technology (i.e. gaming, social media, texting) consume large parts of your day and prevent you from interacting with the flesh-and-blood people in your lives?
Like my conversation with my husband that night, we fail to genuinely engage with those around us when technology becomes an idol. Nothing on our phones is more important than loving the people God has put in our lives, be it coworkers, spouses, children, friends, or even the strangers we meet in the marketplace. Social media can be a good tool to keep up with others, but it should never become our primary means of social interaction. Our lives should be characterized by in-person conversations where we are known as attentive people who listen and truly care about the needs of others.
"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Romans 12:10
Has your recreational use of technology become a tool to entertain sinful thoughts and actions?
There are some things in the world of technology that are black-and-white, never okay for a follower of Christ. One obvious answer to this is pornography. But there are many other activities to be considered, as well. Anything that produces an ungodly desire in us (be it lust, envy, or coveting, to name a few) is something we need to eliminate from our lives.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24
Is your online representation of yourself genuine?
When we interact with others online in a way that is not genuine, such as feigning friendship only for the purpose of selling a product, we are actually living in deceit. As genuine Christ followers, all of our interactions — in person and online — should be driven by a genuine desire to know and love others.
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil. hold fast to what is good.” Romans 12:9
Do you find ungodly attitudes in your heart when you are pulled away from technology?
It is not secret that our society has become one characterized by self-centeredness, impatience, and entitlement. If you find yourself short-tempered or easily angered when someone interrupts your use of technology, it very likely is an idol in your life.
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” Proverbs 29:11
Is your over-arching online message “Follow me!” or “Follow Christ!”?
There is a strong push in our culture toward gaining followers. In fact, people are often measured by the size of their online following, and this pushes many to present favorable qualities over who they really are. A large number of people are walking around with a false sense of self-importance because of the size of their following. Meanwhile, others are consumed with a drive to grow their followings. Each of us must prayerfully evaluate our messages, examining our online presence to ensure our purpose is to glorify Christ and not ourselves.
“Only let your manner of life be worth of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…” Philippians 1:27
Are you in the habit of seeking the Lord throughout the day, turning to Him first instead of your phone?
When problems arise or stress abounds, it is easy to update a Facebook status, text a friend, or call your mom. As Christ followers, though, we know the Lord is the One whom we should always turn to first in times of trouble. I’ve been challenged to not only seek the Lord in the struggles of my days, but also in the quiet, mundane moments. Washing dishes or folding laundry can be an opportunity to binge on a Netflix show, but it can also be time spent praying for others, memorizing scripture, and meditating on the ways of the Lord.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my mediation all the day.” Psalm 119:97
This isn't an exhaustive list of questions, of course, but I hope they help you to prayerfully evaluate the role technology is playing in your life. Come back next Friday, and we will look at simple steps we can take to establish healthy boundaries around technology.