Technology tends to consume and absolute technology consumes absolutely.
I was at a conference recently where often, when there was a break, the participants tended not to get up, stretch, get a cup of coffee, chat with those nearby or even go to the bathroom. Instead they sat there. They were not mesmerized by the presentation they had just heard. They were mesmerized by their screens—handheld or laptop—checking email, tweets, Facebook, news feeds and more.
Technology tends to consume our time, our behavior, our thinking, even our identity. (“Are you Mac or PC?”) When the technology du jour was fire, our ancestors spent a lot of effort focused on keeping the flames going, and it shaped their lives accordingly. When the dominant technology was the steam engine, industry, commerce, transportation and government went where it took them. Now that the technology is digital, the shaping power of this brave new world is no less consuming.
For years I have deliberately put limits on technology in my life. For only one year in my life (thirty years ago) did I have cable television where I lived. I have never had access to my work email outside the office even though that is easily available. I do not have a smart phone. I tend not to take my laptop with me when I travel for business. I use technology (see this blog) all the time. But I aim to shape it rather than let it always shape me.
Are these limits arbitrary? Certainly. Others set different limits, like not owning a TV. Many (not all) Amish decided to limit their technology to everything before about 1840. Arbitrary? You bet. But to maintain lives that are healthy relationally, spiritually, emotionally, physically–if we are to resist the all-consuming nature of technology–we should remember technology is a wonderful servant but a harsh master.