Twelve years ago, the world changed, though the revolution probably went unnoticed by most of us. In January 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the very first iPhone. The advances in technology were astonishing. Internet connectivity with the touch of a finger. Apps, music, movies and media, communication - anywhere. The smartphone is just one example of the many technological leaps that have happened in the past 30 years.
Researchers note that anyone born prior to 1998 is considered a technology immigrant - that is they remember a time prior to personal computers, the internet, and mobile phones. Technology immigrants have required lots of learning and adaptation to rapid technological advances. On the flip side, those born after ‘98 are considered technology natives - the internet and smart devices have always been a normal part of the fabric of life.
A study in June, 2017 indicated that more than 75% of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone. Researchers also show that on average, people who own a smartphone check it every 4.3 minutes of their waking lives. If you’re doubting that statistic, see how many times you consider checking your phone before finishing reading this article. One thing is certain, technology is powerful and it’s complicated. It’s changing us - but do we realize how?
Perhaps the first question we should ask is, “what is technology?” Technology isn’t a new thing, in fact it was a part of God’s design from the beginning. In Genesis 1, God told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Tony Reinke defines it this way: “Technology is used to subdue creation for human good, but also to increase efficiency… Technology is the reordering of raw materials for human purposes.” Music is the reordering of raw sounds to make beautiful melodies. Cooking is the reordering of raw foods into something delicious to eat. Authors reorder the raw materials of words and ideas into books. So technology has the potential to be a powerful force of good in man’s pursuit of filling the earth and subduing it. However, technology also has the potential to be a way for humans to express our fantasy of life independent of God. Genesis 11 depicts the height of how people tried to use technology to rebel against God and build a great name for themselves at the Tower of Babel. It was at Babel that God confused the languages of the people and scattered the rebellious builder across the earth. In this story, God demonstrated that He is sovereign over all of man’s technological advances. And so we see that our smartphones, iPads, and the internet aren’t some new evil. Rather, our smart devices simply create a shiny, glass window into age-old issues of the heart.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges faced in our culture is a constant pull to digital distractions. Social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are just a few examples. As of 2013, nearly 1 billion people check Facebook daily. Facebook disclosed that the average user spends 50 mins per day using their product brands (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger).
Crossway publishers did a poll of its readers and found that out of 5,000 people surveyed, over 70% of “Christians” check their social media each morning before they practice spiritual disciplines such as prayer and time in God’s Word. The way we start our morning most often sets the course of our attitudes and direction for the day, and we should be aware of how technology can affect our priorities.
We can use digital distractions to keep work away, keep relationship with people away, and most damagingly, to keep away thoughts of eternity. Humanity has an unspoken fear that if we are quiet and still, we will be confronted by the gaping hole in our hearts that only God is big enough to fill. We tend to constantly multitask and distract ourselves from this reality with an endless thread of funny videos, intriguing news stories, life-simplifying “hacks,” or pictures of the perfect (or not so perfect) lives of the rich and famous.
So how are we to overcome these distractions? While it isn’t possible to live a life free of distractions, it is crucial for us to recognize the power of distraction in our lives and cultivate spiritually healthy habits. In Hebrews 12:1-2 we’re told: “...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” If our relationship with technology is hindering our walk with God, we’re called to throw off those distractions and focus on running the spiritual race set before us. Distractions tend to draw our focus to the present situation and our desire for comfort and self-enjoyment. But as believers, we’re called to look to the example of Jesus ”...the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” When we fix our eyes on the eternal prize, the distractions of the moment lose their luster and power.
Another heart condition that our technology often reveals is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). If you’ve ever felt anxious when your phone battery dies or the internet goes out, then you’ve likely experienced FOMO. There are many examples of FOMO, but a few common ones are: “What if someone needs me?” Or “What if something important happens and I miss it?” We fear being left out and becoming irrelevant. Our fear of missing a notification means that checking a phone in a public setting has become the new yawn, it’s contagious power is felt by everyone in the room suddenly feeling an urge to also check their device.
FOMO isn’t a new problem, in fact, it was at the very heart of Satan’s temptation of Eve in Genesis 3. After explaining God’s command not to eat the fruit, Satan says to Eve, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Satan planted doubts in Eve’s heart, was she missing out on something wonderful? Was God holding out on her? And so instead of obedience, she allowed fear of missing out to drive her decision. How can we combat such fears?
Paul tells us that what we value will drive the way we prioritize our lives. In Philippians 3:8 Paul says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” If Christ is our supreme value, then we can count every other thing (or notification) in our life as trash compared to knowing Christ. We can trust that God is sovereign over all things and that our constant connectivity (or lack of) cannot hinder His plans. Instead, we are to press in to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of us (Phil. 3).
In conclusion, we know that technology has brought about many great advances for mankind and has been invaluable in helping the spread of the Gospel around the globe. Technology is powerful. We should not shun technology, but we should engage with it in a Biblical way. Technology shows us, in vivid color, the condition of our hearts. As followers of Jesus, we are called to treasure God above all else and from the deep spring of God’s love, we are to pour out our God-centered joy in love for others (Matt. 22:37-40). If you haven’t ever done a technology fast, it is a commendable way to step aside from the power of technology and assess what your heart treasures the most. For additional reading on this subject, including many practical steps for a healthy relationship with technology, we would commend “12 ways your smartphone is changing you” by Tony Reinke and “The Tech-Wise Family” by Andy Crouch.”