Last fall I spent a week teaching at a local high school. By the third day I had noticed a troubling trend among the students. Few of them were able to look me in the eye when speaking to me. I also teach a couple courses at a local college. It is not uncommon for me to return to my office after class to find emails from students I just saw in person voicing questions or concerns. And then there is the sheer panic I see in the eyes of the teenagers who have lost their cell phone or internet privileges upon my recommendation. “But how am I going to talk to my friends?” is a common questioned quickly followed by “But what if their parents answer!?” when I suggest they use a landline to call. And then there are the married couples, who come into my office for counseling and seem to communicate exclusively by text message.
I’m not someone who tends to get overly worried about the direction our world is headed. I tend to trust that God has everything under control and I know the end of the story so why worry about the middle of it. However, it is experiences like these that cause me to pause and wonder what impact technology is having on us and make me fear that it is not positive. Now, before I am accused of being some old fuddy-duddy who just doesn’t get it, let me say that I love technology and use it every day. But it is actually my own use, and overuse, of technology that has made my concern grow. I’m often shocked (and frankly embarrassed) by how much time I spend on Facebook, Twitter, or just surfing the Internet. I hate that I feel “naked” when I forget my cell phone at home. It bothers me that my thoughts become obsessed with discovering what is behind every “ding” and “bleep” my phone makes, even if it means disengaging from the real people I’m spending face to face time with. (Dr. Arch Hart calls this the “Digital Invasion” and wrote a book by that title I’d highly recommend!)
Unfortunately, I fear that the grip and negative impact of technology is even worse for younger people. I believe I receive emails from students because they are afraid (or simply don’t know how) to interact with adults face to face. I worry about young people who find their identity in the number of comments or likes they get on an Instagram post or who feel unloved because they haven’t gotten a “Snapchat” or text message. Most of all, I worry that instead of discovering the person God designed them to be, young people will simply create the person they wish they were in the digital world. Another potential hazard of technology is the ease with which we can compare ourselves to others. Social media allows us to know exactly what someone is doing at any given time. Granted, we compare our real life to the life others create on social media, but conveniently forget this in the process.
On the one hand, finding identity in Christ is as simple as receiving the gift and claiming that truth. On the other hand, it is a constant struggle against the lies of this dark, sinful, and broken world. Technology does not make this fight any easier and may just make the pull to define ourselves in other, ineffective ways more powerful and alluring. Winston Churchill once said that we create the tools and then the tools create us. In our digital world of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and others, will we opt out of the struggle to find our true identity and continue to opt for a fantasy? I know for me, it might be time to “unplug” more often!
Is your use of technology drawing you closer to God? How is your use of technology impacting your relationships and your view of yourself?