“Ugh. It’s only noon, and my iPhone’s battery is already at 30 percent.”
“Oh great, a delay. I’ll never make my connecting flight now.”
“Sigh. There’s never anything good on Netflix anymore.”
“Gahhhh, Twitter is driving me crazy this week.”
We tend to react in one of two ways to modern technology: boredom or loathing. Either technology becomes a mundane fixture in our lives to the point that we take it for granted, or it becomes a perceived poison, a reason for cursing mankind’s ingenuity.
Consider the catalog of modern inventions that Christians have reacted against in think-pieces and sermon illustrations: iPhones, email, Twitter, Facebook, automobiles, televisions, and video games. All of them have incurred the wrath of those fed up with trying to adapt to the constant changing of modern life.
No medium or technology is neutral, and each has a way of encouraging and discouraging specific good and bad habits in us. But human nature itself often discourages us from seeing a blessing when it’s right in front of our face, literally.
Seeing the Good
Smart phones, for instance, claim a constant presence in our lives, available right in front of our faces whenever we need them, providing amusement and information during times that used to be occupied by deep thought and self-reflection. Sure, this pervasive presence seems bad at first glance.
But we must move beyond a surface-level observation, beyond a seemingly dystopian vision of an entire society craning their necks downward, studying their phones and ignoring the presence of those in their physical space. Then we might consider the ways smart phones and the apps we often use have arisen to answer a modern need for connection. It’s easy to write off the connection a smartphone, Facebook, and Twitter provides with a roll of the eyes, but these networks spur us on to think more deeply than we might on our own. They confront us with those who think differently than we do. And they enable us to build connections with those who share our values and purpose.
These new technologies weren’t created in a vacuum. They came in response to previous technical advances that put individual needs above community needs. Automobiles, television sets, and interstates all came out of a desire to set one’s own course.
These technological responses to felt needs are double-edged swords for sure. But they are also amazing. God uses them in spreading his gospel and sharing his glory with the world—whether by circulating a resource people otherwise not see or getting a missionary to a remote location that has no access to the gospel. They’re the church’s way of sharing God’s truth and clarifying its identity. They’re our way of sharing with the world and living with fellow believers.
How Technology Becomes a Difficult Taskmaster
Both boredom and loathing come from a lack of moderation in our use of technology. If we allow our technologies to use us rather than the other way around, it’s no wonder we begin to view them as a difficult taskmaster rather than a useful tool and a blessing from God. It’s no wonder we begin to take them for granted. But if we take an active and dogged approach to moderation, we’ll finally have the perspective we need to allow ourselves to be thankful for these blessings.
Louis C. K. most infamously brought attention to this problem in an interview with Conan O’Brien that went viral shortly after it was aired. In it, he talks about our tendency to become entitled and frustrated almost instantly in response to new technology. “Everything’s amazing right now,” he said, “and nobody’s happy.”
In his video, Louis C. K. suggests that perhaps we could benefit from a time of economic collapse, when we’re forced to do without the technology we so easily despise and take for granted. A more realistic (and significantly more pleasant) solution might be a commitment to consider the human needs that our technologies meet, even (especially!) when they get on our nerves.When your phone battery is dying, consider the miracle that allows you to talk to your wife, your children, or your trusted friend when you or they most need it. When your flight is delayed, consider the fact that the trip would have been totally impossible without the help of a plane in the first place. When there’s nothing to watch on Netflix, consider the myriad artistic experience and life-brightening entertainment you’ve already partaken in for the price of one movie ticket per month. When Twitter is driving you nuts with seemingly petty arguments, just remind yourself that this is what happens when people who would never otherwise converse take the opportunity to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron.
Complaining about technology has become a regular human pastime, a go-to topic for conversation. But God calls us to a higher standard of appreciation: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8). Appreciation and thankfulness isn’t just a key to happiness. It’s a commandment, a Christian discipline that conveys God’s goodness to the world and one another.