Friday, February 01, 2013

Technology and the Christian - Part 1

More and more information is coming out about the addictive effects of technology. We as Christians need to be especially careful not to allow technology to rule our lives. Because of the importance of this issue, I am reposting the entire 20 part series on this topic during the month of February.

Do we as Christians, and in particular Christian men, have a responsibility to think deeply and respond wisely to the proliferation of technological gadgets in our lives? I believe we do. God calls us to be wise in all of the areas of our lives, and considering the fact that technology plays a major part in our lives these days, we need to be sure that we are using it wisely. There is a sense in which things seem to be getting out of hand. Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, let it be known that I am a technology junky. I like to look at all the new gadgets. Thirty years ago I was the first to bring a computer into the school where I taught. Since then I have followed with great interest the development of not only the PC, but also cell phones, Ipods, and tablet computers. So I am not just an old man complaining about all of the new fangled stuff. I like the new fangled stuff! In this series of blog postings, [which is really one long article broken up into pieces], I hope to help us think through some of the implications of the technology we use and the impact it may have on our Christian life and on our relationships with others.

The first area I would like us to consider is the area of distraction vs. attention. I have a real concern about how our devices are limiting our ability to focus and pay attention to one thing at a time. You probably know the feeling. You’re involved in a face to face conversation with someone and your cell phone vibrates in your pocket or you hear the tones from your computer that let you know that an email has arrived. You are now faced with a choice. Do you slide the phone out of your pocket to see what email has arrived? Do you excuse yourself from the conversation to go check the computer to see what the email is about? Many people would do the first. Not so many people would actually get up and leave the room to check on their email message. But, even if you don’t follow through in either case, your train of thought has been interrupted and there is one part of your brain that wonders who’s trying to communicate with you. You've been distracted.

A similar scenario can take place while you’re reading your Bible or praying. The interruption has the effect of breaking your concentration and introduces a question in your mind as to what the message might be. Even if that lasts for only a second, it takes effort to get back onto the train of thought that was interrupted. If this happens often enough in life, your brain actually changes its wiring so that it becomes harder and harder to focus for stretches of time. (See The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr)

Tim Challies asserts, “Our brains actually change in response to new technologies. The brain of a person raised in the age of print, a person who learned from books and who read books in time of leisure or study, has a brain that is markedly different from a person who has learned primarily from images or who has watched videos in times of leisure or study.” (The Next Story, page 44)
One of the interesting things about all of these interruptions is that very few of them are important. Your deep contemplation of the love of God might have been broken by the tone that ultimately lets you know that someone “Liked” the description of breakfast you posted on Facebook.
I don't want to make this too complex, but our system for responding to external input consists of three basic areas – the alerting, the orienting and the executive networks. The alerting lets us know what inputs are around us. The orienting helps us select what we pay attention to out of the millions of available inputs at any moment. The executive network is in charge of attention and helps resolve all of the areas of the brain that are responding to the inputs from your world. (Distracted, page 23)  

When our executive network gets overloaded trying to handle all of the inputs, we feel overwhelmed, fearful and frustrated. In Distracted Maggie Jackson states that “People who focus well report feeling less fear, frustration, and sadness day to day, partly because they can literally deploy their attention away from negatives in life.” In other words their executive network is able to manage all it is given to control and so the frustration is lower.

In another place Maggie Jackson writes, “Executive attention (which directs judgment, planning, and self-control) is a precious commodity. Relying on multitasking as a way of life, we chop up our opportunities and abilities to make big-picture sense of the world and pursue our long-term goals. In the name of efficiency we are diluting some of the essential qualities that make us human.” (Distracted, page 80)

...To Be Continued...
Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.

Challies, Tim. The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Jackson, Maggie. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2008.

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