Thursday, February 07, 2013

Technology and the Christian - Part 5

(For the context, please refer to previous postings. Part 1 here; Part 4 here)

One of the important things for us as Christians to recognize regarding technology is that it can become an idol, either in itself or in the perceived benefits it provides.

Tim Challies observes, “There are always spiritual realities linked to our use of technology. We know that there is often a link between our use of technology and idolatry, that our idols are often good things that want to become ultimate things in our lives. Communication with others is just this sort of good thing, a very good thing that can so easily become an ultimate thing—an idol in our hearts. How can we tell if something has become an idol in our lives? One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. It may be something that we look at right before we go to sleep and the first thing we give our attention to when we wake up. It may be the kind of thing that keeps us awake, even in the middle of the night.” (The Next Story, page 74)

Challies gives us several indications as to when a thing might be becoming an idol. One of the things he mentions is the devotion of an inordinate amount of time to something or anything we feel incomplete without. Haven't you felt these inclinations in yourself when it comes to your smart phone or computer? Haven't you felt the sensation that says, “What do I do now?” when your phone or computer is out of order? Do you feel compelled to check your Facebook page before you do almost anything else in the morning? Almost certainly most of us check email or Facebook before we even check in with God in prayer or read his word. That indicates the possibility of an idolatrous situation taking place.

One author suggests that people have begun to see technology and the Internet as a sort of spiritual existence: “Many see in cyberspace nothing less than a new, spiritual heaven that is open to all who are computer literate, that is, 'baptized,' some observe. Cyberspace gives us the means to realize 'a dream thousands of years old: the dream of transcending the physical world, fully alive, at will, to dwell in some Beyond—to be empowered or enlightened there, alone or with others, and to return,' writes editor Michael Benedikt in the influential essay collection Cyberspace: First Steps.” (Distracted, page 51)

People have always had the tendency to be attracted by the idea out-of-body experiences and existence. The Internet gives them that capability to a degree. They don't have to be real, they can become strong online when they are weak in person. They can be beautiful online when they may be plain in person. Such capabilities are alluring to some people and take on an idolatrous tug.

Challies says that we need to figure out what idol we may be serving. “What is really happening here? Why do we feel this constant need to communicate with others? What idol are we serving? There are any number of idols we may be serving through the tools of communication technology: • We may be serving the idol of productivity, communicating so that we feel as though we are being productive, constantly answering work-related e-mails or monitoring work-related social media platforms, feeling the need to respond instantly and decisively morning, noon, or night. • We may be serving the idol of significance, finding a sense of value in the number of people who notice us and interact with us. People with an idol of significance will measure their success or popularity by the number of friends they have on Facebook or the number of followers on Twitter. They make popularity something that can be measured and analyzed and feel that their own significance increases as more people pay attention to them and interact with them online. • It may be that the very desire for information is an idol for us, that we feel as if having more information holds the key to living a better life.” (The Next Story, page 75)

...To Be Continued...

Part 6 available once it's been published here.

PDF Version of  Entire Series

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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