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.
10 thoughts on “Consuming Technology”
Thanks for your well-stated post, Andy. I think this cautionary message needs to be proclaimed far and wide.
Thanks, Rod. I know so many times I’ve said, “We’re never going to get [the next new gadget].” And then we do. So I’ve stopped saying that. But we try to think hard about this stuff and not just fall into it. Maybe it’s just a lifestage thing, but I find myself wanting to get rid of stuff much more than get stuff.
Ditto, but you would have to send this blog on this topic just as I am installing computer updates and getting my first laptop today, and just as I am going for the large screen LED TV (all the better to see football games with) on Friday. That TV is in exchange for one Badger-Nebraska football game ticket this weekend, which is how badly someone else wanted to see that game. No doubt, the idol that is sports is a subject for another blog.
Examining and setting right your relationship to technology is the key to thriving relationally and spiritually in the digital age. For anyone who wants to read more deeply on the topic, a couple of books by Quentin Schultze (professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College) are very helpful, especially Communicating for Life and Habits of the High-Tech Heart.
Dietrich–sports, huh? Well, now you’ve quit preaching and started meddling!
Thanks for the suggestions, Sally.
Guilty. I’ve done the same thing.
Part of me says, “It’s okay.” When I’m checking my phone, it IS to relate–see if my daughters need anything or my husband sent me a message, etc.
But another part of me says, “You’re addicted.” Wouldn’t it be okay to go a few hours (egads!) without responding even if I did receive something? If it’s truly urgent, they’d call me, not text.
Thanks for yet another wake-up call. The more I hear this message, maybe the more it will sink in.
Good words. I take a similar approach and draw lines for similar reasons. I especially appreciate your comment that technology “shaped their lives accordingly.” For someone who writes about how technology shapes us, it’s good to hear other people articulate it this way.
I’ll challenge you on the Amish comment though. I don’t think it’s arbitrary. I used to, but after doing a little research, I discovered it’s pretty intentional.
There’s a balance somewhere of living in the world and not of it – being an ambassador. I admire the Amish for being very intentional about their use of technology, but I think they fall down on living in the world. It is very attractive in our culture to be fully immersed in technology, but Christians that take this path have succumbed to being of the world rather than thoughtfully considering it.
Thanks for pushing us to think about that balance.
Lee, I think you are right about the balance issue. I do appreciate the Amish because they help make the rest of us think about these things by virtue of their “extreme” practices. They are quite intentional in what they do. Earlier when I said their limits were arbitrary, I didn’t mean they didn’t think very carefully about what they were doing. Nor did I want to suggest that they didn’t have very good reasons for drawing the line where they did. I simply meant that technology is on a continuum (historical and otherwise), and that any limit is somewhat arbitrary. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering limits that are right and appropriate to our own situations and needs.
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