More thoughts on godly living in a technological age…
Distraction and the Death of Deep Thinking
Here is a great paragraph on that icon of the digital explosion, the beep.
The beep is undiscerning and thoughtless. It calls us out of sleep and reverie, out of church and school; it demands our attention as we stand vigil at the deathbed of a loved one. Every beep exacts a cost, whether the cost is simply the brief moment of distraction as our attention turns to the source of the noise, or the necessity of running from imminent danger. These beeps fill our lives. Often, they run our lives. (115)
The tyranny of the beep makes sustained reflection increasingly difficult:
Our desire for speed and productivity has made it nearly impossible to dedicate time to thought and meditation. Instead, we find that we succumb to shallow thinking. Such shallow thinking becomes increasingly hard to combat when we become people who multitask and seek to learn, not by reading, but by skimming. (124)
Models of truth
The internet gives us unparalleled access to information. But we must not confuse that with knowledge: many pieces of information maybe claim to be true, but we need some way to know what is true (or more true). The internet has changed the way we think as a society about truth. Search engines give authority to those claims that are either relevant (most people seem to have linked to them), or have consensus (most people think this is right). Wikipedia, for instance, has completely overtake the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the first port of call for knowledge: but its authority comes from the consensus of a community, not from the authority if knowledge. We should be careful before we trust this as a ‘reliable’ source, and yet many appear to accept it uncritically. This should be of concern for any citizen, but especially for the Christian:
As our words must be true and pure, so must be our knowledge. Truth in all its forms honors God; error in all its forms dishonors him. And this suggests that we need to be very careful about how we choose the sources of our knowledge, about the way we seek to discern what is true and what is false, about how we determine who has the authority to declare what is true. (162)
Technology is not the issue: it is merely a tool in the hands of either the worshipper or the idolater. The digital explosion is a powerful tool, whose reach is unlike any we have seen before. It has changed our world, and it is changing us. It allows us to communicate in new ways; to be both hidden and public to an unprecedented degree; to hurt and to harm, to sin and to show love more than before. It brings both opportunity and danger – as is the case with any powerful technology.
As Christians, we will be wise to use this technology conscious that the greatest danger lies in our own hearts: it is because of sin that power can be used for good or for ill. The three pieces of advice that stick in my mind as most useful for godly living are to be visible, so that we have a clear conscience about what we do and say on the web; to be real, and not to rely on technology or the web to hide our true nature; and to be accountable, as we should be in any area where we have power over ourselves and over others.