Put The Network in its Place

Sue Edwards's picture

Now that we are living the networked life, technology opens doors of innovative and unimagined possibilities, but are there ways that technology could diminish us? How should the discipleship process be reshaped in a digital world? It's time for a conversation.

     Benefits abound. Now, at Dallas Theological Seminary, we can train seminary students all over the world, students who will never set foot on our campus. Soldiers can Skype with their loved ones and I can face time with my grand children who live thousands of miles away. Did that on Sunday. What fun! We are more productive. My husband works for an international computer company and in the past he was required to travel the globe--high cost in money and time. Now they connect on conference calls, sometimes at 3 am to accommodate the guy in India, but hey...it's cheaper and easier. Abusive governments can't murder their people without the rest of the world knowing. Someone is always uploading their photos to the Internet.
     But challenges abound too. Company is always available online but many of us are exhausted by the required time drain to stay in touch there. We enjoy those connections but seldom have one another's full attention. Texting allows us not to intrude on one another in real time but we constantly intrude on one another, flattening what we say in new "reductive genres of abbreviation". (MIT scholar Sherry Turkle, Alone Together) We can work from home but our work bleeds into our private lives until boundaries all but disappear. Diminished expectations in digital relationships allow us to present our best selves to all and hide what we don't want others to see. Thus we don't have to enter into the messiness and pain of real relationships. But if most relationships become digital on digital instead of face to face, will we one day morph into and remain relational adolescents? Already Americans say they have "befriended" many but enjoy fewer real friends than ever before.
     Dozens of studies are now sounding the alarm because many are losing the ability to focus deeply on one thing for a long period of time. I see this in my seminary students. Shorter and shorter attention spans, taking short cuts, hurried and distracted thinking. It's changing the face of education, and for believers, it impacts the sanctification process. All this cycling and surfing through screens with links that call us to dip in an out of other screens rather than devote sustained attention to one of them is altering the way we think and learn.
       What's your response? If you'd like to chuck technology and go back to simpler times, forget it. The digital age is here to stay, and God isn't surprised by the new era that has just been birthed. But the time has come for Christians to take a serious evaluative look at how we  use technology. Can we use it for God's glory rather than join the cultural wave of enchantment at each new device's unveiling?  It's time to put technology in its place.
     Are you familiar with research that helps us understand technology, both the positive and the negative? Read  Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and From the Garden to the City by our own John Dyer. Start conversations with Christians friends. What new spiritual disciplines might help believers use technology but not be diminished by it? Consider that the "quiet time" is probably only about 500 years old, born when common folk first owned a Bible, with the invention of the Guttenberg press.  What new spiritual disciplines can help Christians go down deep and stay down long in their relationships with God, His Word, and one another? This is the challenge of our time, and I believe we are up to it, especially younger believers who have all but merged with their machines. What do you think?

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