Two new items found their way to my desk this week. The first lamented the problems of technology and its effect on the speed of life: “People have, indeed, been busy since the world began, but never have they rushed ahead in a haste so frantic as in this present.”
Written this week? The preceding sentence gave it away: “Steam and electricity have tremendously increased the pace of life. Everybody is in a hurry.”
It was over 100 years ago that the Reverend George Hodges, Dean of the Episcopal School of Cambridge, MA made these claims his 1896 Lowell Lectures on “Faith and Social Service.” His particular concern was indifference—that is, when we lack interest, concern, or sympathy, when we “turn our faces in some other direction” than to what’s important.
Technology picks up the pace of our lives. Instead of a moderate velocity, with time to pause, life takes us at breakneck speed where all we see is blurred, and we can become indifferent to what’s best for ourselves and others.
Smartphones & Superficiality
The second event happened when I was grading final exams, and I came across similar sentiments from my undergraduates. As digital natives, they have grown up surrounded by the technology of smart phones, laptops, YouTube, and video conferencing. They realize the allure of technology and the velocity at which it presents itself make real thought and relationships difficult. One student wrote (and I paraphrase somewhat), “Many people have become so concerned about the number of Followers and Likes they get on the photos they post, it’s almost as if they forget to have real, tangible experiences in life. They seem to care more about their social media status, rather than the content of their character.”
All in all, we know that technology accelerates life, and it increasingly feels like we can’t keep up. For centuries, theologians and mystics have reminded us that we need to slow down in order to find God, and that deep relationships with our God and our friends grow slowly in the soils of time.
Science tells us many of the same things (naturally, with some scientific haggling), particularly about how excessive use of technology impoverishes ourselves and our relationships. I’ve put the links below.
- Pew Research Center’s 2018 study of teens and social media.
- Lifeway’s take on the same subject.
- MIT prof Sherry Turkle on losing our humanity in this technological age.
- “How to Keep Your Smartphone from Hurting Your Relationships.”
- On Jean Twenge’s research that’s received loads of attention.
- The counter argument to Twenge, that tech-savvy kids are all right.
- Practical advice based on Andy Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family.
- The smartphone as a means to share your faith from CT.
- My take: “Using the Power of No to Restrict Technology’s Reach.”
- Taking a break from your phone can only enhance your spiritual life.
I’ve argued elsewhere that we need to paraphrase Jesus’s view of the Sabbath in Mark 2:27 in light of modern life, “Technology was made for us, not us for technology.”
To meld the original meaning of the text with the reality of technology today, here are some recommendations: Set a day aside each week where the pace slows. Take daily tech Sabbaths. Put aside your cell phone for 60 minutes a day. Don’t sleep with your iPhone next to your bed. (Those are #3 and 4 of Andy Crouch’s 10 Tech-Wise Commandments—linked above.)
And, as church leaders, let’s be sure to do this work in community. We need people around us to keep us honest. Or, like moths seeing a flame, we run back to the light of our cell phone screen. Often to our peril.
If you also hear me expressing concern that we do very poorly when we’re left to our own devices (as it were), then this post has offered a useful warning. Without prayer, repentance, humility, obedience to Scripture, and community discernment, we fail.
But there’s more. As leaders in congregations, we can model good habits and set up communities of practice that help us use our technology wisely. And there we can slow down enough to discover the truth to these words from Isaiah 30:15:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.”