Technology and lowered expectations

How many times a day do you check your email?

consumethis-1Today, it’s trendy to denounce consumerism and individualism. But do we know what they are? Consume This! looks for a new way to be Anabaptist in the 21st century by highlighting habits taken for granted. How are thought, faith, and action connected?—Eds.

Jimmy stumbles out of bed just before seven, and groggy, and reaches for the first cup of conveniently perked coffee thanks to his programmable coffeemaker. Then it’s straight to the computer to begin his daily morning routine.

First, Jimmy checks each of his three email addresses to see if there is anything new since he last checked at midnight. With nothing but endless promotions, surveys, and spam, Jimmy moves on to his daily blog-check.

Jimmy spends a lot of time in the “blogosphere.” Jimmy thinks interacting with the thoughts of others online is an important way to stay connected. It’s unlikely much has changed, but he feels a need to discover what others are thinking, which online video clips people find amusing, and which websites he ought to check out today. Jimmy is very concerned with what others think of his ideas, and the isolated nature of online communication makes it easy for Jimmy to spend a lot of time managing his online persona.

At times, all this online foraging for info leaves Jimmy a little overwhelmed and guilty. After all, there are just so many people, ideas, and events to keep track of, and it takes so much time to do it. Jimmy knows he ought to start preparing for the day, and he had every intention of spending a bit of time reading Scripture and praying this morning, but the time has, once again, gotten away on him.

The computer, as with his mobile phone, Blackberry, and iPod, makes everything easier. Jimmy has many contacts to text-message, and innumerable alerts, email updates, and instant messaging options configured on his laptop so he’ll never miss an important conversation. That would be deeply unsettling.

Though it’s not work-related, he’s convinced a bit more self-control, not a re-evaluation of his use of technology, is all that is necessary to correct this.

Jimmy has noticed his attention span growing shorter. He sees the world through the immediacy of media. He reads the first paragraph of a news story, finds it only mildly engaging, and moves on to another. Unfortunately, the habit is transferable. He starts to read the Bible in the same way. If inspiration and meaning don’t immediately leap off the page, he moves on.

Jimmy’s become a restless and impatient consumer of words and ideas, and despite the halting recognition of this fact – which dawns on him in his increasingly rare moments of clarity and spiritual openness – Jimmy feels powerless to correct the habits his use of technology has produced.

Jimmy used to spend more time with family, friends, community events, and church. But they seem, at times, more like burdens than privileges to be gratefully embraced. Has he allowed the “online” world to become more important? He wonders.

If he’s honest, Jimmy admits endless communication options don’t really leave him feeling more “connected” to others. In fact, he often feels ignorant, isolated, and insecure. At times it all seems like a disconnected and incoherent conglomeration of factoids, snippets of entertainment, and personal miscellany.

Jimmy is a Christian, but he doesn’t know how his faith in a good God, who is in the process of reclaiming and redeeming a fallen world through the death of his son Jesus Christ, provides a coherent and compelling narrative which can challenge and correct his use of technology, and can properly define both the ends and the means of human “connection.” Jimmy’s over-reliance on the comforts and immediacy of technology have made him less open to Christian virtues such as patience, longsuffering, perseverance, self-sacrifice, and submission and service to others.

Jimmy goes to bed feeling an odd combination of resignation and hope. He realizes that powerful cultural forces have always sought to distract human beings from their God-given mandate to love Him and one another, and to be characterized by such fruits of the Spirit as gentleness, peace, patience, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). Yet despite his poor track record with technology, Jimmy is hopeful.

Jimmy may not know a lot about the nature of faith, but he does know that no failure to properly reflect God’s image is permanent or irreversible. He knows God has always exposed, judged, and healed his people when rival gods proved too attractive to resist. Jimmy is just starting to realize how his use of technology has led to the formation of negative and unhelpful habits, but his confidence is placed in a God who has always been faithful in leading his stubborn, self-centred, acquisitive, and idolatrous people towards a future of wholeness, harmony, goodness, and peace.

Ryan Dueck is a member of Killarney Park MB Church in Vancouver.

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