The Technological Society
Technological devices have inundated our lives—they are ubiquitous and every changing. We are constantly urged to utilize new more efficient technologies and compelled to update the ones we have. Both the penetration of technologies into more areas of our lives and the rate of change places us in a new era. Think for instance, of the way telephones have changed in your life-time—or even the last ten years—as compared to the change your grandparents experienced in the first decades of their life. Perhaps the only change they experienced was the change from rotary to push button phones. We are not anti-technology—witness that we are using an array of technological devices to enable you to read these words. We do, however, think that because of the influence and impact of technology on our lives we must respond to it actively rather than passively float along in the current of technological utilization.
A techie, John Dyer, captures the contrast between passivity and active discernment in these lines: “When it comes to technology in the church, I believe that the technology that has the most promise in the church is not the latest thing that comes off the assembly line. Rather, it is the technology—any technology—that church leaders openly discuss with other leaders and their congregations. Conversely, the technology that is most perilous for a church is the one that leaders immediately adopt without thinking through and addressing how it will subtly reshape our spiritual lives". We seek to encourage this sort of reflection and discernment.
We bring three main convictions to the exploration of this theme.
First, the most efficient option is sometimes, but not always the best option. (See the exploration of this topic on the Technique paradigm page.)
Second, the medium (a technological device) is not passive. People commonly refer to electronic media, the Internet, cell phones, tablets, etc. as morally neutral tools. They state that it is the use of them that is either good or bad. In response we have a two-part thesis:
No tool or medium is neutral; it influences both the content it carries and the user of the tool.
To treat the medium as passive is a grave mistake because it leads to ignoring the medium itself and only evaluating whether the intended purpose for using it is good or bad. (For further explanation of this thesis see “The Church and Electronic Media–Foundational Issues” below.
Finally, presence matters. God became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us, is at the heart of Christianity. As we discern and evaluate the active roles of various media let us ask how they might increase or decrease presence. The digital age teaches us that presence does not matter (see chapel talk by Shane Hipps below). Yet, to return to the point made above, to highlight the importance of presence is not a blanket rejection of all mediated communication. We are using it right now. It is not a simple issue. For instance those researching the question of whether Facebook increases connection or increases loneliness point out many variables. If Facebook users have strong networks of friends outside of Facebook and use it to build on those relationships and to coordinate face-to-face social gatherings Facebook can increase connection. But as the proportion of online interaction to face-to-face interaction increases, the more people use Facebook the lonelier they become. Researchers would add that it also depends how you are using Facebook, details we do not have time for today. We mention this one example to underscore the importance of careful, deliberate and in-depth discernment.
As we consider particular uses of specific mediums may the Spirit guide us. May we be better enabled to facilitate profound connection and act as agents of God’s presence in a world of alienation and absence.
The Church and Electronic Media–Foundational Issues: Our Addiction to Efficiency and the Myth of Neutrality
It is imperative that we reflect with care on the use of specific applications of electronic media. It is also imperative, however, that we do not simply use the same framework and mindset of electronic media itself as we do this discernment.
Digital Formation: God's Presence in a World of Absence
We live in a rapidly changing digital age. We see changes happening all the time but stand oblivious to the hidden ways we are being shaped by our technologies. Beneath our conscious awareness a revolution is taking place. Our understanding of God, relationships, and the gospel are radically changing under the influence of technology. Learn to see beneath the surface of things so that we can learn to use our media rather than be used by them.
Shane Hipps is a Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Church in Michigan.
Tips from author Cal Newport
Can We Autocorrect Humanity? “Why I Refuse to Let Technology Control Me”
Powerful spoken word. You need not delete your social networks or destroy your cell phones, the message is simple, be balanced, be mindful, be present, be here.
A Key to Living with Technology: Asking the Right Questions
As this article on the Amish portrays being willing to ask evaluative questions, rather than blindly adopting and using technology, is of fundamental importance. For instance, they ask: "Does it bring us together, or draw us apart?"
Building on a set of questions by Arthur Boers, Al Erismann developed a set of questions for those whose lives are within a 21st century, technology-based business. (He spent 32 years at The Boeing Company, the last 11 as director of technology.)
How might you adapt his questions for use for a church staff, for a family, as a therapist, as a teacher, etc.?
Former Google Employee Talks about the “Arms Race” for our
Tristan Harris gives a talk and answers questions on tech use and design/policy implications. There is an “arms race” for our attention as tech firms like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat compete for a limited thing—our attention. Harris states, “The things that work best for capturing an individual’s attention are different than what is best for the individual and what is best for society.” He gives examples, and explains how the technology today is different in four key ways than technological innovations in other times.
It is common place to say that technology is changing us. The Psychology of Technology Institute, co-founded by my friend Nate Fast, presses beyond the anecdotal and intuitive and promotes research and discussion on how it is changing us and how we can respond. It brings together people from the academy, the private and public sector from diverse fields including: social psychology, organizational behavior, computer science, psychology, and communications. Video recordings of presentations from their past conferences are available on their website.