Questioning Technology


Does the dance with technology ever seem like "one step forward two steps back?" You're not alone. Tom Rowley has some advice. (cc image courtesy of supernova3688 via Flickr).

by Tom Rowley

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

This piece started with me feeling rather smug over a major technological breakthrough at our house—namely, setting up the hand-me-down Wii that my sons got for Christmas and then, hold on to your hats, connecting that to Netflix for family movie nights. All without uttering an expletive (at least none that my dear ones heard). Before putting fingers to keyboard, however, the smugness gave way to heartburn over what we had unleashed on ourselves—yet again.

A bit of background: in our house, as in many I suspect, the dance with technology seems never ending. One step forward and two steps back, as we ask ourselves “What is good? What is frivolous? And what is downright evil?”

Luddites, we are not. We’d be hard-pressed and hungry to go without the microwave. Unemployed if it weren’t for wireless laptops and 3-, 4- or whatever-G-they’re-touting-now cell phone coverage. And flat out broke if we bought movie tickets, let alone the popcorn. In short, we are thankful for the blessings of technology.

But parents, we are. And though every generation has lamented likewise, the onslaught of games and gizmos designed to suck the very brains from our children’s heads is dizzying, draining and downright frightening.

And people of faith, we try to be. So we recognize that with all of technology’s good, there comes, too, a degree of insulation and arrogance that whittles away at our dependence on God. With life-enhancing and life-extending advances all about us, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that we are not gods. At the very least, there comes great distraction—bells and whistles and tweets—that crowd every waking moment, leaving scant space for attention to the divine. The most plugged-in era in history may well be the most disconnected from the Author of history. I can read the Bible on my iPhone, but do I take the time to ponder what it says—in between emails, text messages and ding alerts from Southwest.com? I can pull up any number of nature webcams, but do I get outside and savor God’s other revelation: the book of nature? Sadly, not enough.

With life-enhancing and life-extending advances all about us, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that we are not gods.

This irony (“tragedy” really) took center stage in a recent discussion with colleagues about using Internet videos to teach and encourage environmental stewardship. Ed Brown at Care of Creation put his finger on it.

“Isn’t there a fundamental disconnect here?” he asked.  “We are working to heal creation, to put people back in touch with the glories of God’s world and everything that goes along with that:  I don’t think it’s going to happen by trying to get people to watch more pixels!”

He’s right, of course. The best way to inform and inspire people to steward the Earth (and a really good way to introduce them to its Maker) is to get them outdoors with their sleeves rolled up amidst the wonder of it all—whether ringing birds to study their migratory habits or planting streamside trees to improve water quality or tending gardens to feed those in need.

That is the best way.

Still, we first have to reach people in order to get them outside. People with eyes glued to a screen. Ironically (“sadly” really), in this age we have to use technology to counter technology. For good and for ill, it is part of life.

As with every other aspect of life, we are called to be thoughtful, full of thought, in our relationship to technology.

The question then is “how will we use it?” As with every other aspect of life, we are called to be thoughtful, full of thought, in our relationship to technology. Not daftly dancing along to the latest drumbeat, enticing as it may be. Rather, asking ourselves whether we “should”, not simply whether we “can.”  Should I let my children play a video game now? Or should I accompany them on a hike? Should I watch a movie? Or ought I read or write or pray? Should I buy another gadget—knowing that its manufacture put carbon in the atmosphere and mercury in the water? Or should I say enough already? As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, all things may be permissible, but not everything is helpful.

Thomas D. Rowley is Executive Director of A Rocha USA, a non-profit conservation organization mobilizing Christians to steward the Earth in communities across the nation–through educational programs and hands-on conservation projects. A Rocha USA is part of the worldwide family of A Rocha projects. For more information, please see www.arocha-usa.org.

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