“We have reached a period in which all forms of cultural life have surrendered to the sovereignty of Technology,” warns Arthur Hunt. “We are now under a Technopoly, which says absolutely nothing is going to stand in our way of technological progress. We put so much cultural stock in sort of headlong rush into the future without any clear telos [goal]. The only real telos is it has got to be bigger, it has got to be faster, and it has got to be newer. Somebody might ask: Well, what is wrong with this? Well, it advances the notion that our purpose in life is to be a satisfied consumer of material goods. So the next big thing is not the coming of God’s kingdom, but the coming of the curved TV screen.”
In fact Christians do have a clear telos, says David Wells. “Our objective in life is to become God-centered in our thoughts, God-fearing in our hearts and God-honoring in all that we do. This is a society of distraction. If we allow it to overwhelm us and press us into its mold, will take time away from those things that are central: our focus upon the reality and the presence and the glory and the goodness and the greatness of God. So in that sense it becomes a real competitor.”
The aim of technology and the aim of the Christian life can easily run counter.
Whether we are interrupted by external beeps for notification, or interrupted by internal cravings for distraction, our minds are changing. And this gets to the most serious concerns David Wells has for younger Christians. “We are losing the capacity for attention, by which I mean the ability to focus on something and to think about it. And if we lose our capacity to focus, how will God be the central organizing thing in our lives? How will we become God centered in our thoughts, if we are fragmented in our thoughts? And how are we going to be God-honoring in our lives, if our lives are just bits and pieces of information? That is the problem.”
But where do we go from here? How does Scripture help us navigate these concerns? How do we protect our time and attention to focus on what is eternally relevant? Hunt and Wells offer five takeaways to help us survive life in Technopolis.
1. Count the personal costs of a device along with the benefits (Hunt). “First I think the Bible informs us to walk circumspectly with eyes wide open. To some extent I think we should be like the children of Issachar, men who understood their times (1 Chronicles 12:32). We live in a world that is constantly changing and telling us that we need this new gadget and what this new gadget will do for us. We should be asking: What is this new gadget going to do to me personally? And what is it going to do to my family, to my community, to the world?” Every gadget comes with benefits. Every gadget comes with relational costs.
2. Be the master over your technology, don’t get mastered by it (Hunt). Don’t be a passive recipient for technology, but use technology to achieve the ends of your life. “We need to be masters of our technologies and not the other way around. The consumer should not be consumed.”
3. Moderate your use (Hunt). We are not monks. Separating ourselves from technology completely is not an option for us. Thus, “we should practice the virtue of moderation, or what the Bible calls self-control. We should learn to redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). Time is short, because we are going to die. Therefore, we need to make the best use of our time.” And our attention is finite and limited. Create patterns in your life to strategically withdraw from technology.
4. Hone your skill to distinguish the significant from the insignificant (Wells). “We must learn to organize our internal world. If we don’t do that, we cannot see the distinction between things that are really weighty in life from those that are ephemeral and flashy and superficial; those that are true from those that are wrong; those that really matter from those that we can brush off. The capacity to do that is what the Bible talks about under the language of wisdom. We today might think of wisdom today as smarts. But in the Bible it is really not. It is a heart thing, the ability to see life for what it is by our knowledge of God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, because we are seeing our lives with the rays of eternity (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7;9:10). When you see life in that sort of light, it looks very different from the way that life looks like on the Internet.”
5. Discipline yourself by reading books (Wells). “We need to keep exercising our minds by reading, because it exercises our minds to understand sentences and follow narratives. We need these abilities to study Scripture.”
For the health of our soul, we must learn to get alone undistracted.
Only in thoughtful silence can we order (or re-order) our lives by the greatest and most relevant news in the universe. “The greatest, deepest, most glorious thing that we can know is what God has revealed to us of himself in his love and his holiness,” Wells reminds us. “Everything else pales into insignificance. If you focus on the shiny stuff that glitters for a moment, at the end of your life you will find that your hands are empty.”