Many brilliant and creative people have worked over the last few decades to develop digital technology. As with many inventions, the conception and the consequences were years apart, and what was imagined as the possible uses of technology is probably very different from the reality.
So now we have this amazing variety of tools at our disposal. Nearly every house has a computer, and there seems to be a phone in every hand.
As with anything, there are extremes of attitude about technology. Some take it for granted, and don't think it is important to consider whether or not tech has a positive or negative impact. Others are suspicious and fearful, prophesying The End of Civilization As We Know It. Most try to achieve a balance.
I often defend technology as nothing more than a tool, like a hammer. You can use it to build a birdhouse, or beat someone to death. It ain't the hammer's fault what'n you choose to do with it. But I also don't believe there is such a thing as a truly amoral activity, especially for a Christian who believes in the pursuit of God's ideals of holiness and virtue.
But how does the hammer, or the smartphone, or the laptop, become evil? Just as "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh", we could say the XBox or Kindle (or the hammer) reveals the character of the user.
Instead of dismissing the tool altogether, we can apply the Proverbial trio of "knowledge, wisdom, and understanding" to the task.
Why did you buy the techno-gadget you have in your hand--for what specific purpose? Is it fulfilling that purpose?
If we are having trouble figuring out where to draw the line with the use of digital devices, there are questions that can help us weigh our choices against Biblical principles, such as:
- How do our actions affect others? 1 Corinthians 8 is an often used passage more complex than meets the eye, but it does convey the idea that we should take the effects of our actions upon others seriously.
- Could we describe our behavior as purposeful and reasonable? Philippians has a lot to say about both of these goals and characteristics.
- Do our actions and attitudes bring honor and glory to God? Revelation 4:11 is as concise as it gets about our true purpose on earth, and that's our True North.
- Are we being good stewards of our resources? Technology is a resource we can use in good conscience--but consider the verses preceding Ephesians 5:16 describing foolish and wise behaviors, and ask whether or not our account of ourselves could be summed up in 1 Corinthians 4:2.
And now for the other extreme. I remember when my mother's Alzheimer's began to show itself more visibly. Her paranoia was sometimes disconcerting, but at times it was comical. One day I was doing something online--paying bills, scheduling appointments, I don't remember--but she came in the kitchen and asked me what I was doing on the computer.
"I'm on the internet."
"Be careful!" she warned me sternly. "There's porn on the internet!"
Well, there is, but you actually have to go looking for it. Few have ever 'accidentally' stumbled onto a porn site, and with today's simple monitoring/filtering tools (like OpenDNS) you'd have to be dumber than dog hair or a pathological liar for anyone to believe you accessed porn by mistake. And my apologies to the dog hair.
Remember when the radio and television were the biggest threat our morality? I imagine most of us have heard it called the Hellivision, Boob Tube, Booger Box, and a multitude of other colorful metaphors meant to convey the Evils of Television. Records were played backward to reveal messages invoking Satan, and the lyrics to Barry Manilow songs were parsed for hidden meaning.
The lions, the tigers, the bears. Oh my!
And that was when we only had about 4 channels to choose from. Today we have access to hundreds of channels and thousands of shows on dozens of platforms. No matter how alluring the tech and its features, it's still the user who is in control of the device. We can't relinquish the responsibility for our actions to inanimate objects.
We can choose to read, watch, or listen to media that doesn't advocate immorality, incite lust, or induce covetousness. There are shows that are informative and enlightening. Stories help us learn about other worlds here on earth so we can develop empathy and understand life from another perspective. We even have tools to edit objectionable content from television shows and movies.
A verse often used to summarize how we should make choices about media--
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
This is a straightforward message, but it still has to be weighed in the context. For example, I'm sure Paul wasn't ignorant of current events in Rome and elsewhere, so this verse isn't directing us to stop watching the news or reading that biography of Elizabeth Báthory.
I've been talking mostly about adult usage, so how does this apply to our kids? Today's kids are immersed in media. How can that be a good thing?
Although past studies have implied that media usage in young children can be harmful to their development, recent studies have shown that it isn't the use of devices, but the reasons parents give their young child a tablet. Most parents do so to entertain or calm their child, not to teach them. That's a huge difference that illustrates why it's motive that shapes our actions and the results of those actions.
So if we apply the same principles to our kids as to ourselves, we should be asking:
- Are we teaching them to study to show themselves approved unto God?
- Are we teaching them ways to safely and responsibly use technology?
- Are they learning to exercise moderation?
- Who are their role models, and what kinds of behaviors are they imitating?
- What physical and mental activities are our kids also immersed in?
- Are we good examples to our children of the proper uses of technology?
I am the first to say I love gadgets of every kind. There are many wonderful things technology has given us. The ability to connect and communicate with others is one aspect of the internet I particularly enjoy. I also can use it to save time and money by researching products and prices, and buying online--especially when free shipping is offered. I can keep my budget organized and pay the bills, scan documents and email them to our insurance agent or for some other business purpose. It takes less than 10 minutes to do what used to take days by snail mail or an hour or two by car. Don't even get me started on how many hours of my life I've spent on hold compared to the few minutes it takes to chat online with Tech Support.
Many devices have been reduced in size so information storage no longer involves large file cabinets full of papers or shelves full of disks. The medical advances alone are incredible and fascinating and have saved the lives of many of our loved ones. Even our home thermostat is digital and programmable so we can save money on our energy bills.
The Industrial Revolution is far behind us, and we are in the midst of a digital age. To pretend we can live in and minister to this world without ever using modern technology is a disservice to our children. Many careers require a knowledge of hardware, software, and programming languages. They need us to provide guidance and help them develop discernment and balance.
We may feel challenged by the many digital devices we have at our disposal. We can't take them for granted, but we can't avoid them as though they have some kind of power of their own.
We can apply our knowledge and spiritual understanding to the use of modern technology as in every other area of our lives, and work to develop virtue and character in ourselves and our children.
Edited to add: I just read an article, How Do Parents Honor the Benefits of Digital Devices While Limiting Kids' Use? at MindShift. It's good--check it out.