Technology: the Great (Potential) Thief of Reflection

November 17, 2011 by Jong Park

i-love-technology-v2I got a glossy ad for cable yesterday, which I promptly chucked into the recycling basket. It dawned on me later how much TV has changed. The lowest package for this particular company was 100 channels. MTV, ESPN, TNT … these are all considered standard fare for people ordering cable. Many people get bigger packages, of course, with movie channels, etc. America’s entertainment options have certainly evolved from the days when cable was considered a luxury, not a necessity.

Television itself has fallen off  its entertainment pedestal with the surge of mini-screens: computers, smartphones, and tablets. These are all able to bring you instant entertainment thanks to the internet. TV has gone from being the captain of the ship, to one of the sailors on the ever-growing SS Techno.

As I write this post, I am sitting in a Starbucks. Across the room, three elderly men are sitting on lounge chairs and chewing the fat. They look like they’ve been buddies since high school. One gentleman, sporting a silver goatee, has ben on his iPhone non-stop, checking his email, texting someone while maintaining his conversational stride with his buddies. It’s not just college kids who are tech-savvy now; it’s become an American way of life to multi-task. Remember when it was considered ultra rude to have your phone go off in church? It’s still rude but if the person takes the call and quickly shuffles out of the sanctuary we assume, “It must be work-related” or “Something urgent must’ve come up at home.”

What are the consequences though? One obvious effect is that it has prety much destroyed an ethos of contemplation and reflection. (We had so little to begin with!) Constant noise is accepted and expected. We’ve become like my six year old son who complains, “Dad, I’m so bored. There’s nothing to do!” while staring at a shelf filled with age-appropriate books.

One advice I’ve always given to the people in my church who commute to work is that they should redeem their time and technology and listen to podcasts of good preachers on the train or in their cars. However, I have increasingly been wondering, could it also be beneficial for them to turn their iPods off all togeher and reflect on their lives, their family, and their church? Because the goal is not to be able to rattle off the latest Piper and Keller quotes but to be deep people who pray through the good Word they hear.

Some thoughts:

1. Make time for reflection. Technology has the potential to suffocate you. Be it in the morning or at night or both, steal away a moment and reflect and pray and evaluate your heart, mind, and soul before the Lord. (Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. 2 Ti 2:7)

Some people make it a point to do a media fast for day or half a day. In doing so, some have admitted they felt like they were going to die without their iPhone, which had become not just a tool in their hands but literally an appendage, an extension of themselves. In their misery, they come to recognize what is truly essential to do their work and how much of their “need” for their smartphone is actually an unhealthy addiction.

We also should make times for communal reflection. Family dinners should be a time of sharing and building community, not sending out your fifteenth tweet of the day. I saw a funny but very tragic ad years ago in a magazine. It was a picture of a father happily pushing a swing while his ignored child sat on the ground next to him looking longingly at her father who should’ve been spending time with her. Who was on the swing then? A laptop of course. A computer is not more valuable than our children. That seems obvious enough, but in our day and age, it seems we need ads to remind us of such rudimentary values.

2. Get your own convictions. It doesn’t have to be an original thought (we all get our thoughts form those who’ve gone before us) but it should be our own conviction. That’s why Jesus could say with utter force of conviction, “for it is written” every time he fought off the Snake’s temptation in Matthew 4; the Word was written not only on the pages of Torah, but for Jesus He was the Word. When we say “for it is written” we should be able to point to our chest. This can’t happen unless one prays in response to God’s Word. Prayer is the spiritual discipline that moves the Bible from the head to the heart. Without prayer, one can become utterly theological but not spiritual.

Incidentally, Paul was accused of being a “babbler” at Aeropagus by the Athenian philosophers. The condescending implication was that he didn’t know what he was talking about. “Babbler” literally meant a seed-picker (spermalogos), someone who picked up tidbits of ideas here and there. They were saying Paul was not a man of grounded conviction. Of course, they were completely off the mark, for seed-pickers don’t die for their faith as Paul did. But this seed-picking tendency is a danger for us who have Twiterrian eyes, always scanning the screen for catchy ideas in 140 words or less. We must learn to hold onto meaty ideas for a long time, which produces more meaty ideas. There is no other path to inner gravitas.

3. Let your reflection turn to conviction and then move you into action! Do something! When Jesus says, “Come follow me,” it would be tragic to reply, “No thanks, I’m good on my couch.” Even though we are more mobile than ever in our current age, we can be couch potatoes in our hearts. We are in perpetual danger of consuming information while doing nothing. We become the sentimentalist who sheds a tear watching a commercial but won’t lend a hand to our disabled neighbor. True conviction lives itself out in our lives. Live it out or watch the conviction die from attrition.

I’m afraid I’ve come across sounding a little anti-technology in this post. Let me be clear: I love technology and I love what technology can do for God’s people if used properly. A missionary going  into a closed access country can take entire commentary sets on his laptop, for example. But the danger is that same missionary, when in a fight with his wife, could be tempted to use his laptop to reconnect with an old flame from high school via Facebook. And this is why we need to develop a discipline of reflection, repentance, conviction, and action, not only in technology but in life.

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