(This is part 1 of a 3 part review – today I will focus on the book, tomorrow more on my personal experience and reflections. Part 2 can be read here.)
Life and Faith after the digital explosion. It is an apt byline! We have undergone a digital explosion over the past 100 years, and it is escalating ever faster. I was considering this growth of technology myself when this book was released, so it seemed a good time to grab a copy.
I will reflect more on my personal experiences tomorrow, but just as a quick background – as a day job, I am the IT Manager in a medium sized business across multiple states here in Australia, and have been working in technology jobs now for at least 18 years in both Australia and the USA – that is half of my life. Outside of work I also enjoy technology – I purchased this book on my new Kindle, and we have more technology than people in our house…
Onto the book!
First, to the conclusion. This was an interesting book reflecting on many aspects of technology – and it is primarily that, a reflection. Apart from one small complaint (which may not be valid for many people), this is a helpful book. It helps provide some Biblical guidance, foundation and perspective on technology, and its affect on our lives. And then provides some basic guidance as to how we might want to relate to technology in our lives.
My only real complaint is that the book is wordy – that is, for me, I found sections had way too much detail. But that is part of the reason I provided my context as a highly technical person – for many people, I think there is a lot of good information and context to help people understand the roles of technology in our lives and society, and how to evaluate that against our lives, especially as Christians.
The two main area’s I enjoyed in the book were addressing technological idolatry, and technology distraction. (Quotes from the book in italics)
There are always spiritual realities linked to our use of technology. We know that there is often a link between our use of technology and idolatry, that our idols are often good things that want to become ultimate things in our lives. Communication with others is just this sort of good thing, a very good thing that can so easily become an ultimate thing—an idol in our hearts. How can we tell if something has become an idol in our lives? One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. It may be something that we look at right before we go to sleep and the first thing we give our attention to when we wake up. It may be the kind of thing that keeps us awake, even in the middle of the night.
Some of the statistics in the book I found interesting, like for example in one survey of 1600 young adults, 34% of female respondents said they checked Facebook first thing in the morning, even before they got up to go to the bathroom or do anything else! I guess to me that is crazy, that communication, and the technology to enable it, becomes so important it has to be the first thing that someone does in the morning! There is also the example of a person who simply cannot turn off their mobile phone, even in the movies, or the business person who simply cannot be more than arms reach from their smartphone, lest something happens and they don’t hear it.
The other main area that I think we could all do with a reminder of is distraction (and for a specific example, in the middle of that sentence my mobile phone rang!). Our technology has become so accessable, that we carry it everywhere. We have our iPhones, smartphones, iPad’s, laptops and who knows what else, available to us all the time. The internet is rarely more than 5 minutes from anywhere, and for many people, they become addicted to this availability.
In the midst of all of this distraction, the cure is to refocus our attention on what matters most. If our distracted existence is the fruit of allowing beeps to control our lives and of turning speed and capacity into divine virtues, then we must respond by silencing the beeps and relearning how to focus.
Another interesting observation from the book was how technology has come to shape the way we see the world, and the way we see and understand world events. Challies draws a comparison between Pearl Harbor and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Both were catastrophic events in the history of America. Both were ‘surprise’ attacks which killed many Americans in an act of war. But because of the change in just over 50 years in technology, people alive during Pearl Harbor may not have known about it when it happened – it was at least hours, if not even days before they found out. Yet when people are asked about 9/11, they often can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing – because first the news and then the images were broadcast worldwide within minutes. We almost all got to see the burning towers, the second plane, the final collapse and all the drama in between. I know from my experience – my son had woken that night, and we had a TV in our room we would switch on for ‘light’. It was 3AM for me (In Australia on 9/12), and I flicked on the TV so I could see to go and check what was happening. And instead of some shopping channel, the news was on – which immediately caught my attention. And then I saw the first tower burning. I changed channels and all 4 major channels had news broadcasts – something was definitely going on. Even though it was 3AM, it was by chance I had the TV on to use as a light – I already knew and saw what was happening in America at that time.
Because of all these changes, Challies reminds us that technology not only becomes part of our lives, but changes them completely. If you look at the automobile, it has totally changed society. We have moved from village centric society, where the fastest you could travel for most people was a horse, or maybe a train (and only for maybe 50 years before the auto), to a society where almost everyone can be wherever they need to be in short time. If we took the automobile out of society today – we could simply not fuction. I could not get to work. I couldn’t even got to my church. I could maybe walk to the local shops, but that would be about it. Technology changes society in a way that cannot be undone.
And so this book helps show us those technologies, and give some Biblical guidance on how to interpret those changes in our lives, and in light of the Bible. In our current age as well, it is good to be reminded of the changes that happened before our time (for example, the automobile revolution), and be able to evaluate those changes in light of modern technology.
As Christians we know that God calls us to live with virtue, to live thoughtfully before him, to use our God-given minds to live in a way that honors him. If we are to take our responsibilities seriously, we must learn to ignore the buzzes, the beeps, and the distractions that threaten to drown out serious thought and reflection. We must learn to remain undistracted, to wholeheartedly focus our attention on the things that matter most, and to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Final thoughts? Apart from what I found to be extra words, for most people this will be a helpful book, as it takes technology aside, and takes a good hard look at it’s affect on our lives, from a Christian and Biblical perspective. Recommended.
(Come back tomorrow for some more personal reflections on modern technological changes)