Christmas for our family involved some wonderful time away from the normal routines of life where we could focus on spending time together that resulted in two important benefits – reconnection and refreshment. For me, reconnecting with my family involved disconnecting from technology, which proved to be harder than I anticipated. The difficulty we all have of disconnecting actually reflects the danger of living in a technological age. Technology is both a blessing and a burden. A blessing in that it allows us to connect and engage with people, and a burden in that our inability to disconnect with technologically can actually damage our most important relationships.
Before diving into this post, let me remind you where this series is going by including a brief overview below. I have already mentioned a little bit about the difficulty of disconnecting from the virtual world in my first post, so the focus of this post will be on the very real difficulty posed by technology to cultivating “slow” spiritual disciplines. By slow, I mean practicing meaningful spiritual disciplines intentionally and unhurriedly.
- Living in a transitional stage of life.
- Difficulty establishing important spiritual habits.
- Difficulty making meaningful religious commitments
- Living in an independent culture.
- Difficulty prioritizing the local church.
- Difficulty obeying/honoring parents.
- Living in a technological age.
- Difficulty leaving the virtual world.
- Difficulty exercising “slow” spiritual disciplines.
- Living in a post-modern era.
- Difficulty accepting long-standing traditions.
- Difficulty embracing moral absolutes.
- Living in a sexualized society.
- Difficulty with relationships.
- Difficulty with personal purity.
- Living in a sacred-saturated secular context.
- Difficulty avoiding religious superficiality.
- Difficulty discerning secular from sacred.
Two Sides of Technology
Technology has many qualities, benefits, and uses that impact the way we do life. Contrary to what some believe, technology is not neutral. It has effect and impact on the user. Usually, we employ technology because of its positive effects and benefits. For example, we use a smartphone to extend our ability to connect with others. We use its features to search for information, sort the information, share that information, and even store it for later use. Our phone becomes much more than a way to text or call; it becomes an extension of ourselves. However, that same smartphone can shape and impact us—not only for good—but also at times for evil. We can communicate with greater frequency and reach and yet fail to communicate effectively or meaningfully. Technology, which we initially purchased to enhance our real friendships, has in some cases replaced them with virtual “friends,” who basically interact with us through “likes” on our social media.
So technology designed to help us live effectively in the real world has often exiled us to a virtual world far removed from real-world relationships or real-world demands. Instead of living our God-given story in the real world, we find ourselves vicariously living the stories crafted by others to entertain us or distract us from the difficulty and pain that often is a part of our real-world experiences. Technology allows us to access worlds that are very different than our own and live stories that are not our own. What we thought would entertain us has actually become the world we escape to when we tire of struggling in the world in which we actually exist.
The great potential for positive use amplifies the danger of technology because it increases our ability to rationalize and justify our negative uses.
To further complicate matters, I find it almost impossible to do life in today’s world apart from technology. While I recognize its dangers, I also recognize that to live effectively in the information age, I have to learn how to use technology skillfully, intentionally, effectively, and wisely. And this requires that I understand and acknowledge the dangers associated with technology along with its benefits. Failure to recognize the “dark side” of technology will eventually diminish or destroy its benefit to my life.
Much thoughtful writing exists on the impact of technology, so allow me to just mention a few big concepts concerning the dangers. Ultimately, I want to press the question “How will you respond?” in light of these dangers.
The Seven “As”
Seven “As” have been identified that pose a danger for internet users. The “Seven As” are the result of a secular study on the impact technology has on intimacy in relationships. While the authors of this study approach it through a secular lens, the dangers they describe are very real for the Christian. To be clear, the study presented these seven dangers in the context of intimate relationships for couples. However, these dangers speak to a wider range of issues that we face as believers who are striving to use technology to the glory of God. In other words, if these seven realities are dangerous to intimate relationships on the human level, they pose an even greater danger for Christians who are striving to maintain healthy relationships for the glory of God.
Anonymity – Being able to keep your identity private leaves many unaccountable and more courageous in seeking out sin. Further, anonymity allows individuals to engage in relationships without transparency, thus eroding trust and weakening the strength of a long-term relationship.
Accessibility – The constant availability presents a constant temptation. You not only have to fight when you are strongest but also when you are weakest. My sin nature makes temptation ever present, and technology makes it immediately accessible from almost any location or life-context.
Affordability – If it doesn’t appear to cost you much, what can it hurt? This is the problem of thinking of cost only in dollar signs. Netflix is only $7.99 a month, but how much time does it cost you? Am I trading the person God wants me to be by spending my time this way instead of another?
Approximation – As technology improves and fantasy appears more and more real, what will stop people from deciding to invest their lives almost entirely in the online world? It seems so similar to—and even better than—real life.
Acceptability – What might not appear to be something morally wrong to do in person may seem morally acceptable online. Many of our morals may not travel the distance from our seat to our screen. More significantly, because we are inundated and constantly bombarded by immoral behavior or thinking, eventually it becomes “normalized,” tolerated, and then perhaps even justified in our thinking.
Ambiguity – A large use of our technology is fairly new, and it places us in a world we have never been before – virtual reality. Behaviors and situations that would be clear in our daily world are not so clear in a virtual world. We would think twice about presenting ourselves as someone we are not to our employers and our friends, but what about the virtual world where we can be anyone we want to be? Lines that would be clear to us in the real world of time and space are not so clear in the virtual world, where reality and identity are not merely experienced but are shaped and reshaped. Where to draw the line on these new issues hasn’t been clearly dealt with in many cases.
Accommodation – Someone can go online to fulfill a desire that can’t be met in “real life.” It creates an apparent disconnect between your online self and your real life self. “I just do that online. I wouldn’t do that in real life.”
There is biblical truth to respond to every one of those seven dangers. (Maybe that’s a series for another time?) But let me also recommend you read 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. It is a great book that answers – you guessed it – 12 ways your phone is changing you.
Responding to the Ways Technology is Changing You
So, as we have observed, technology has many benefits and many dangers. Technology is not neutral, and not all of its effects are positive. What can I do to minimize the danger and to avoid the negative effects of technology in my life and on my soul?
Just as there are no perfect firewalls to protect from malware, there are no perfect answers that counter all the spiritual dangers and negative effects of technology. However, even though firewalls are not perfect, they are immensely helpful. So let me suggest two important spiritual “firewalls” that will go a long way toward helping us keep technology in its proper place in our lives. These are not the only disciplines that are worthy of careful consideration, but these two are especially important because they are actually means of grace God has mercifully and loving provided for us so that we may live in ways that please Him and result both in our good and His glory.
Cultivate these two “slow” spiritual disciplines.
When was the last time you sat in quiet? Not listening to music, turning on the tv, or opening your phone – just quiet? If you can hardly remember a time like that, then maybe you’ve also found it hard to pray for more than 10 minutes at a time. Silence can feel like torture for those who are used to constant jolts of entertainment, but it’s those still moments of communion with God that will energize and sustain you.
Nearly every significant section of the Bible includes prayer. Can we possibly expect a normal, growing Christian life without it? What if instead of reaching for our phone or the remote whenever we encounter a free moment, we instead communed and communicated with our Lord? We often speak poorly of distractions, but the reality is that we often want them. But what if that unrest we feel in silence is satisfied by the presence of God? We won’t need the distractions. We can instead lean on God and find the grace that he provides through prayer. You already pray? Great! But perhaps not enough.
2. Bible Meditation
It’s difficult to speak to God when we don’t know what He has said to us. If prayer is like breathing, then God’s Word is the air. But I want to narrow my suggestion from the importance of God’s Word in general to the specific importance of intentional meditation on Scripture. In light of the fast-paced, information age we are talking about, I think this narrowed application is appropriate—because as we increasingly rely on having answers on our phone, we decreasingly see the need to have Scripture on our mind. And the way the writers of Scripture describe this process is through constant meditation of God’s Word (Psalm 1:2)—in our minds and not just on our phones. In other words, we should think about God’s Word and reflect on it to the point that we can retain the wording of Scripture in our minds. This kind of meditation usually results in memorization.
Memorization?!? Why take the time and effort to memorize Scripture when I can just look it up? And therein lies the problem. Memorization requires intentional, concentrated meditation. If my phone eliminates my need to memorize, chances are very great that it poses an even greater danger—a lack of meditation. Why take the time to meditate on something that is immediately available at the touch of a screen or the swipe of an app? The immediate availability of God’s Word does not automatically result in the deep meditation of the truths found in its pages.
John 15 provides a beautiful illustration of abiding with God. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, which means our life, strength, and fruit all comes from Him. But how do we abide? Among other things, allow me to focus on one.
In verse five it says, “Whoever abides in me and I in him,” but in verse seven is says, “If anyone abide in me, and my words abide in you.” Did you notice the difference? You abide in God, and God abides in you. You abide in God, and God’s words abide in you. A small switch, but very insightful. You want to know what abiding in God is going to look like? No less than His words abiding in you. The deeper you enter into God’s Word, the deeper God’s Word enters into you! While our phones make this possible, the distractions we experience from those phones create significant barriers.
Let me give you an example I have experienced on multiple occasions. Like many of you, I strive and struggle to have a meaningful devotional time in the Word each day. Sometimes due to travel or other factors, I find myself reading my Bible on my screen. I have a great Bible app and it is awesome to have so many good translations and versions of the Bible at my fingertips. The search capacity of Logos can take me to any number of commentaries that open awesome windows into the text I happen to be reading. However, in the middle of some of the best times I have had in the word, my phone has dinged or beeped or buzzed. A text notification came up on my screen. A news notification appeared magically right as the sun was standing still for Joshua. A call I had been expecting the day before came right as I was just grasping the larger connection of the passage—and though I silenced, ignored, and swiped those interruptions away, the intrusion broke the moment and on more than one occasion, though I kept reading to the end of the chapter, my mind was not fully engaged while I hurried through to the end so I could get back to my “real” world.
One more passage – Psalm 119. Verses 1-3 say, “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” Here, the psalmist is looking at this blessed person, sees their life, and begins to desire to be like that person! He says in verse five, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” The psalmist wants to know how to be like that person, and verse nine and onward provide the answer: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you!” He concludes that to be like the blessed man he saw, he needs to build a wall with God’s Word around his heart.
Do you want to abide with God? Then God’s words need to abide in you. Do you want to live a life that is blessed? Then you need to store God’s Word in your heart.
I commend this four-minute video by John Piper to you (click here). He provides eight powerful reasons for memorizing Scripture. And along with that, I encourage you to set aside time to pray, meditate, and memorize, allowing those moments of prayer and Scripture meditation to begin filling those moments technology can easily fill with distractions.
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
This post was co-written by Garrett Martin.