5 Warnings on Christians’ Thoughtless Use of Technology

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Rod Dreher notes in his new book, The Benedict Option, that “parents who would never leave their kids unattended in a room full of pornographic DVDs think nothing of handing them a smartphone.” Why is this true? Why would parents who carefully monitor what their children watch on tv or what movies they go see fail so spectacularly when it comes to the technology their children use? In a recent interview on the Art of Manliness podcast, author Nicholas Carr taps into why this kind of disconnect can exist and from that interview I think there are at least five warnings for Christians’ thoughtless use of technology.

Silicon Valley is Not Your Friend

The companies that make up Silicon Valley (Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are not neutral and neither are the tools they create. Carr mentions in the interview that there is an ideology that drives everything Silicon Valley does. I have written previously on the phenomenon that when we use a tool, not only are we shaping the world around us, but our tools are shaping us. The value systems embedded into our digital tools shape how we think and act, which even has a physiological effect on how our brains work (see Carr’s book The Shallows). Christians must actively interrogate the technologies they use  and determine whether the value system the tools encourage align with the Bible’s value system.

A Frictionless Existence is Not Worth Living

In a striking part of the interview, Carr mentions the oft-stated goal of software developers to create “frictionless experiences.” Carr goes on to say that friction is what helps us grow as humans. Friction makes flourishing possible. Proverbs 27:17 states that “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The wisdom of the Bible is telling us that a frictionless existence is a static existence and thus an inferior existence. If we never rub against others, we will never change. We will always be the same. As we use tools that are very efficient and have experiences that are frictionless this will undoubtedly seep into our relationships. When we reside under a layer of pixels, maintaining an image, change is not required of us. But when we live in close proximity to one another, we can see the areas that we each need to change. The friction of life shows us where we are dull and others help sharpen us in those areas.  We often have an illusion of connection via social media, but for most, no one really knows us. This has huge implications for Christian community. Christians who unthinkingly use digital technology will struggle to create and maintain deep forms of Christian community. 

Information Gathering is Not an End in Itself

When talking about his book, The Shallows, Carr points out that the Internet is a great place to gather information. However, the ethos of the Internet is that of information gathering as and end in itself. Reflection on the information gathered so that we can turn that into personal knowledge and even wisdom is not encouraged or rewarded by the Internet. I think this has huge implications for preachers. Preachers must realize that most people coming on Sunday morning are being trained to be information gathers only. And those preachers that present the Bible as words about God are nurturing a people to be hearers of the Word only. The Internet Age demands preaching that presents the Bible not as words about God, but rather as words from God. This is the only kind of preaching that will break through the information gathering ethos of the Internet because it demands a response. If the Bible is just words about God, I don’t need to respond. But that changes if the Bible is words from God.

Techno-Gnosticism is the Religion of Silicon Valley

Carr describes Silicon Valley as embodying an anti-materialist ethos. They want to digitize as much of our existence as possible (see Frictionless above). So they see the physical body as insufficient and a hinderance. Recently Elon Musk (CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors) has stated that he believes humans need to become cyborgs in order to stay relevant (he fears AI and robots will make humans useless). There is a group at Google working on the Singularity—which is a fancy way of saying they want to upload human consciousness to a computer. This is nothing more than techno-gnosticism that seeks salvation from the physical world in the ethereal world of the digital. Christians must realize that salvation is what’s being offered up in lot of the technologies we use. Otherwise, we may unknowingly take them up on the offer.

Technology Can Devalue Human Life

Carr wisely points out that certain tools can often rob us of our humanity. By outsourcing tasks to a machine, it is possible that in the name of efficiency and convenience we will trade away core aspects of our humanity. The danger here is that when we constantly use tools that train us to value efficiency and convenience above core aspects of our humanity, we begin to blur the definition of humanity itself. And if the definition of human is blurred, it is suddenly possible to mold the definition of human to exclude certain groups. Abortion is a perfect example. While certain medical technologies have made it abundantly clear that we are killing children, the ethos of many of our tools have enabled us to justify it by redefining humanity. This is exactly what many do when they say the baby isn’t human until born or that it’s just a bunch of cells at the beginning. Those arguments are absurd, but an ethos of technology that says efficiency and convenience are most important makes those absurdities tolerable to those that espouse them.

Conclusion

Carr ends the interview by saying that for most, a wholesale rejection of the Internet is not possible and that’s not something he advocates. Rather, he advocates that we vigorously examine the tools we choose to use and be aware of the ideologies embedded in those tools. This is sound advice. But Christians must go one step further. We must do all things to the glory of God—including our use of technology.


This article originally appeared on davidprince.com. Used with permission. 

About the Writer:
Justin Camblin is a pastoral assistant and staff nerd at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, KY. Follow him on Twitter @justincamblin or visit justincamblin.com.

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