When I walk downstairs in the morning after a good night’s rest, I find my thoughts being drawn toward what new information or messages may have come in overnight on my smart phone. I have learned not to use my smart phone as an alarm clock. It’s too tempting to check (just one more time) news reports, the weather, the stock market report, bank and other accounts, what has come in on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Mail or Messages. Even though I keep my phone downstairs at night, there seem to be invisible strings pulling me to it first thing in the morning.
The main thing I aspire to do early in the morning after making coffee and breakfast is to launch into spiritual reading, Scripture and prayer. I often find it difficult to focus on these when I use my phone to check the day’s weather, open a message from a friend overseas, or get into something else that lures me into the orbit of my smart phone. Once enticed in, it’s bafflingly hard to extricate myself.
Technology is assumed to be making our lives easier and better. It doesn’t deliver on all its promises.
The other day my wife was trying to register for a cycling class at our gym. Previously she made a phone call to the front desk to sign up. Now it must be done through an app. The app didn’t work. After more than an hour on the phone with the gym’s technology help desk, it still didn’t work. Frustration! That meant she couldn’t do the grocery shopping in the morning and had to postpone it till evening.
Our fiber internet provider raised our rates to a level we weren’t willing to pay. We switched to a new LTE provider at a considerably lower price. Most of the time it works well, but the connection at times is spotty.
The technological revolution that has taken place over the last 20 years has been rapid and relentless. Has it made our home life better? In a recent study done by the Barna group, 78% of parents either strongly agreed or agreed that it is more difficult to raise children today than when they were growing up. When asked why this is the case, the number one reason given by 65% of parents was “technology and social media.”
Today many children lie on the couch eating junk food and calling to Alexa, telling her to bring up songs and television shows they want to hear. They don’t even need to push a button. Childhood obesity has been on the rise for years. Pornography is ubiquitously available on the internet. What can we do? Shall we raise a white flag and admit defeat?
In a book called The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch, the author affirms that one of the main purposes of family is to build character among its members. Crouch lists Ten Commitments he and his wife have made for their family.
- We develop wisdom and courage together as a family.
- We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the center of our home with things that reward skill and active engagement.
- We are designed for a rhythm of work and rest. So one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year, we turn off our devices and worship, feast, play and rest together.
- We wake up before our devices do, and they “go to bed” before we do.
- We aim for “no screens before double digits” at school and at home (in other words, no screens for our children before the age of 10).
- We use screens for a purpose, and we use them together, rather than using them aimlessly and alone.
- Car time is conversation time.
- Spouses have one another’s passwords, and parents have total access to children’s devices.
- We learn to sing together, rather than letting recorded and amplified music take over our lives and worship.
- We show up in person for the big events of life. We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms.
Crouch is quick to admit that his family has not come close to succeeding perfectly in keeping these commitments. But they strive to do so. I appreciate both his honesty and the goals he and his wife set for their family.
I am daily more convinced that improper use of technology is one of the biggest obstacles confronting the mission of our families. If our purpose as families is to practice the fruits of the Spirit toward one another and act as God’s witnesses in the world, technology may, can and does very much work against us when we don’t harness it in proper ways. Technology, in a myriad of ways, conspires to isolate us from one another in worlds of fantasy. We are more distracted because of it. Reliance on technology causes us to unlearn valuable skills that devices can do for us, so that we lose capacities that were once passed down in every family.
The apostle Paul wrote “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Our battle is to place technology in the service of Jesus Christ for the good of our households and for the good of our fellow humans, and not to allow technology, so much of which now is designed to sell us something, to make us its puppets dangling from invisible strings. This battle will require resolve, discernment and intentionality.
When Mary sat listening to Jesus teach, her sister Martha, who was distracted with much activity, complained to Jesus that her sister should be helping her serve the guests. Jesus stood on Mary’s side. He said “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) We need the Lord’s help us get technology into the proper place so that we can create the time and space in our households to listen to Jesus.
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