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Navigating the Digital Storm

Right now on the floor of the bedroom sits a black plastic milk crate. My wife came in and put it on my side of the bed and declared, “You’ve gotta do something with this.” I groaned in my spirit, because I knew this day was coming. You see, this isn’t any normal milk crate. This is a milk crate full of gadgets and gizmos whose day has passed. It’s the original iPod touch with a cracked screen. “But it still plays music!” It’s the iPod Nano that I got my wife for her birthday eight years ago that she used to take to the gym. “But it still works!” There is the GPS running watch with a battery that only lasts for 9 minutes. “Maybe I’ll use it for a REALLY quick run!” Then there are all of those brick-shaped power adapters that you’re not exactly sure what they go to, but you’re afraid to throw them away, lest you need them someday!

Yes, these are the confessions of a bleeding-edge, technologically obsessed, pathetically hopeless individual. You see, it’s my father’s fault. When I was 5 years old, he brought home a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer from Radio Shack and my life was forever changed. When I was a child, my friends would endure periods of no television as punishment when they misbehaved, while my punishment was more severe—no computer! In 1997, I bought a Palm Pilot and it all went downhill from there. To be able to carry such information in your pocket was incredible at the time. I could carry my addressbook, a dictionary, and a calendar in one small device. I could even use the proprietary cable and plug it into my computer using proprietary software and sync it whenever I needed to make a change. Amazing!

Fast forward to the present, and the majority of Americans carry smartphones. We transfer funds between bank accounts at the red light, send a message to a friend on the other side of the world while in line at Starbucks, and stay in touch with loved ones, no longer bound by long-distance telephone rates or the need to be at home to call someone. What an amazing age we live in!

But imagine a world in which this technology wasn’t used for such lofty purposes. Imagine using this technology to escape from reality, to peer into the lives of others. Imagine that we used this technology to find out how boring and uneventful our lives are when compared with other people’s lives. Imagine that we determined our self-worth based on the number of times our peers clicked a digital thumbs-up button. Imagine that we had ready access to a computing device more powerful than the computer that put a man on the moon, and we used it to put a picture of our sandwich on the Internet for all to see. What a sad life that would be, right?

What if these technological wonders in our hands, while fostering relationships with people around the world, were actually alienating those in closest proximity to us? I took my wife on a date to a fancy Italian restaurant a few weeks ago. It was fancy for us at least, as it was one step up from Olive Garden, which is fancy for us! Before we were seated, I reached into my pocket and turned my phone off. I wanted the focus of our time to be on one another, and I am well aware of how easily I get distracted. However, as I looked around the restaurant, I was struck by the number of people who didn’t share the same conviction. One man was mindlessly scrolling Facebook while the woman across the table from him was smiling at her Pinterest app. Another man was watching basketball on his phone while his companion caught up on her email. Not a word was said at a table of four ladies while each one smiled and pecked away as she basked in the bluish glow of her smartphone screen.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more common. Technology has become an idol for many. Below you’ll find some practical guidelines that I hope will help you to use the tool of technology without bowing to the idol.

Determine your priorities.

What is really important right now? If I’m ignoring my wife while checking sports scores, I’ve just communicated to her what is important. If my son is asking for help with his homework but I’m putting him off because of some cute YouTube video I’m watching, I’ve communicated to him what is important.

Develop guidelines in accordance with your priorities.

Determine what your priorities are and develop guidelines to help you live those out. For example, when we take a family vacation, our priority or goal is to draw close together as a family and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, for our family, vacations are completely cellphone free.

Use it for edifying purposes.

I’ve been guilty of firing up the Facebook app on my smartphone out of sheer boredom. Now, I’ve loaded the Kindle app on my phone and use idle time to read a book that will strengthen my walk with God. Waiting for your latte? Fire off an encouraging text message to someone who could use a kind word.

Guard your family.

With the advent of watches that integrate with your phone and eyewear with embedded computers, it’s obvious that technology is not going away. As a husband and a father of three precious children, I can choose to forbid the use of electronic devices or I can help lead my family in how to use them. By establishing safeguards to protect against inappropriate use and performing regular checkups of appropriate use, I’m able to see how my family is employing technology, and I can act quickly to correct any deficiencies before they become larger issues.

Get extreme.

Researchers from California State University tell us that excessive use of social media may be connected to attention deficit disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, voyeurism, addiction and more! Rather than attempting to describe all of these mental and physical conditions, I would instead point to the overarching issue of idolatry.
So what happens when technology becomes an idol? The only thing the Bible commands that we do is to destroy it. Can’t stop looking at pornography despite nearly losing your family? Cut off Internet access in the home. Obsessed with what your “friends” on Facebook are doing? Close your account. Feel tethered to your smartphone? Get a flip phone that only makes phone calls and is cumbersome for texting. While this sounds extreme by today’s standards, Jesus wouldn’t think so. After all, He did say in Matthew 5:30, “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee….” That’s pretty extreme, if you ask me!

Unbeknownst to many of us, our digital devices have become an extension of who we are. Most of us don’t need an extreme technology makeover, we just need to set our priorities with purpose and be more aware of how we spend our time. We need to use these devices as tools to live our lives to the fullest, not become slaves to them!

That milk crate is still sitting on the bedroom floor. It’s an illustration of how quickly the latest and greatest gadgets become obsolete and worthless. But that family vacation? The kids will remember it for a lifetime. Invest in what matters!

Note: For insightful and convicting reading on the effects of technology in relation to Christian living, check out The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion by Tim Challies.

ANTHONY KING
Senior Pastor
at Huikala Baptist Church, Honolulu