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13 Schizophrenic Impacts of Modern Tech

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Technology has always caused cultural angst.  The first time a farmer hitched a plow to a horse instead of hand-shoveling his field, someone had an anxiety attack.  In the early 1800′s, petitions were started against steam engines that were racing through the countryside at breakneck speeds of 15 m.p.h. Change has always been uncomfortable.  The more a new technology affects our day-to-day lives, the more it tends to produce a backlash born of unease, fear and resentment.

In the midst of such cultural upheaval, its tempting for Christians to spiritualize our discomfort.  You know:  it’s not just that I’m scared to get on one of these new-fangled aero-planes…it’s that such things are an affront to God.  If the Good Lord had meant us to fly, He would have given us wings!  But spiritualizing our nervousness or fear of change just makes Christians seem hopelessly old-fashioned and out of touch with contemporary culture.  More importantly, it tends to obscure or inhibit important discussion about real issues related to technological innovation.  Change isn’t necessarily bad…but it’s not always good, either.    All technological change is a mixed bag and having a thoughtful, discerning discussion about both the positive and negative impacts of technology is critical for Christians who want to be able to speak into their culture without being overtaken by it.  Keeping our voice in the marketplace requires a willingness to adapt to – and even adopt – certain positive impacts of technological changes…but having something to say requires an awareness – and even avoidance – of certain negative impacts of that very same technology.

It’s not always easy to find that informed middle ground, but it is what we are called to seek as the people of God.

So in the interest of helping Christians thoughtfully engage the culture in which we find ourselves, here’s some food for thought:

Your voice can be heard around the world! A video or a blog can instantly touch the lives of people in parts of the world that we’ll probably never set foot. Everyone’s voice can be heard around the world, so the world doesn’t know who to listen to anymore.  Everyone is an expert, so no one is an authority.
We can stay connected to people no matter where they are.  Skype, Facetime, Facebook chat…proximity no longer dictates communication. It inhibits face to face communication.  People are texting someone on the other side of the world rather than looking at someone on the other side of the table.
We can find support and community with other people who are interested in or struggling with the same things we are.  My little town doesn’t have many Tolkien fans, but there are hundreds of Tolkien fan groups on the internet. No one else in my town has leukemia, but there are all kinds of leukemia support groups I can connect with on the web. We’re cutting ourselves off from other perspectives that would challenge us and make us grow.    By being able to tune in to really narrow interests, we’re tuning out everything else.  We don’t have to deal with alternate views.  We just spend all our time reinforcing our own preferences.
We can find out anything we need to know!  We don’t know what to do with all the information.  Knowledge has replaced wisdom.
It makes us so much more productive!  We can research a topic, write a proposal, video-conference with co-workers and keep track of the stock market without ever leaving the house. We’re paralyzed by all the options and easily distracted by all the info-streams vying for our attention.  Wait, is that a puppy?  That’s too small to be a puppy, isn’t it?  I’m gonna Google the average size of a puppy…
We can re-create ourselves online.  Can’t get rid of a mean nickname that got attached to you in third grade?  No one in SecondLife knows that nickname.  People look at you funny because you’ve got psoriasis?  Not in WoW you don’t.  I mean, you’ve got a horn in your forehead, but that’s ok…I mean, no-one judges you for having a horn in WoW. It’s hard to know who people really are online because it’s so easy to create a false persona.  All those people we think we’re really connecting with, building a real community with?  Are they really who they pretend to be?
We have instant access to loved ones who live far away.  We can share pictures, videos, and updates throughout the day.  It doesn’t even have to be about important stuff. It can just be the little stuff that makes up our lives We’re expected be available to everyone 24/7. (bing) Oh, my aunt’s cat coughed up a furball, good to know. (bing) Did I get the text about the furball? (bing) Why didn’t I respond? (bing) Don’t I care about her cat? (bing) Don’t I care about her?   
We’re more honest and transparent with each other online. It’s easier to say difficult things to each other when we’re not in an uncomfortable face-to-face situation. We’re meaner and ruder to each other online.  It’s impersonal and we often don’t have to see how our words affect anyone else.
Because it takes less effort to communicate in a quick text or IM or Facebook post, we communicate more. Increased communication means fewer misunderstandings.  The implications of tone and humor are often lost in digital communications, leading to misunderstanding.
It makes us more active.  Reviews of family hiking trails, geocaching locations, flash mob invitations… it all helps us find new things to get out and do.  It makes us sedentary.  We can go days without ever getting outside.  Maybe I can use Google earth to check out that geo-cache location I was reading about…
It’s great for the environment!  Do you know how many trees we’re saving every year now that so much stuff is paperless? It’s terrible for the environment!  Do you know how much electrical energy we have to generate to keep all our devices charged?  And what about all the toxic metals and plastic going into our landfills when we throw our old tech away?
It creates jobs! It eliminates jobs!
It simplifies our lives!  We have databases and calendars and automatic reminders with us all the time.  We’re free to focus on the important things. It complicates our lives!  We have so many devices and info streams to keep track of that our lives are discombobulated.  With so many things clamoring for my attention, we don’t know what to focus on anymore.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, additions, disagreements, etc.  Leave a comment below!

Want to watch a video inspired by this list?  Check it out:

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  • Pingback:Jobs – Movie Review | Shepherd Project Ministries

  • August 29, 2013

    It’s all about control, and keeping technology in it’s proper place. Technology, like fire, is a great innovation, but when it becomes the master rather than the tool it is very destructive. The problem isn’t so much the technology in and of itself, it’s the place it holds in our lives. This is something that I’ve been contemplating for a while. Where is the line between the backwardness of Luddism and Kurzweil-like techno-mania? On the one hand you lose relevance and on the other you lose humanity, freedom, and self-reliance. I would say if you feel any anxiety at the thought of leaving the house without a smartphone, tablet, etc then you probably need to get a handle on the role of technology in your life. Likewise, if someone mentions Google and your first thought is “what’s that?” then you (probably aren’t reading this and) should exit the cave you’ve been living in for the last 20 years. This is a hard balance to strike, and is even harder in the more nuanced areas described in this blog post. My humble recommendation is to unplug yourself and your family on a regular basis, whether that’s a whole day each weekend without smart phones or the internet, or just a couple hours every night (and during sleep doesn’t count). Also, go outside, really go outside, don’t go snapping pictures of everything don’t even bring a camera, just enjoy perishable moments with your own senses, enjoy them for what they are and while they last and don’t even think about sharing it via tweet, status update, or blog post. Keep it private, have something that is yours and only yours even for just a moment. Or have you forgotten how to do that?

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