Counting Technology as Loss for the Sake of Christ


[The following is a guest post by Justin Camblin, Pastoral Intern and Staff Nerd at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church]

“Did you get a picture of that?” I asked my wife as I got out of range of the sprinkler that my sons and I were running through. “Yes,” she replied. “Good. Didn’t want to be doing this for nothing.” As soon as the words crossed my lips, I wished I had not said them—but I had. My wife quickly retorted, “Even if I didn’t get a picture, you wouldn’t be doing this for nothing. You’re doing it for your sons.” Burn. That’s what a proper rebuke feels like. My comment revealed that I somehow believe that if I do not have a picture of the moment, then the moment did not happen. The time spent with my sons playing in the sprinkler was a waste unless I could relive it through a photo. In an instant, my disfigured relationship to technology and media bubbled to the surface and disrupted my ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of fatherhood.

I have always been drawn to technology. I was born in 1981 and came of age during the explosion of invention and ingenuity. My elementary school had an Apple Macintosh, the first computer with a built in graphical screen and the first with a mouse. In junior high, before we had home internet access, I had a Juno email account. It would dial-in using our phone line to send and receive messages (and I would daily hit my limit of email messages sent). By high school, we had home internet access (America On-Line!) and I had my own computer. Our family also bought our first cellular phone. My sister and I could only use it after 7:00pm because that’s when the minutes didn’t count against our monthly allotment. When I enrolled in college, I was introduced to broadband internet. It was always on. You didn’t have to dial in! And it was fast (3mb per second!). You could download a song in a few minutes, rather than ten on a dial-up connection. Every year, it seemed as if new devices and new capabilities were introduced. The changes were so fast, we barely had time to comprehend what was going on around us. From the time I was born, we went from only a select few using and owning digital devices to now almost everyone has a smartphone in their pocket.

Due to that rapid change that took place as I grew up, I struggle to relate to technology and media in a proper way. And I do not think I am alone in that struggle.

Technology Defined

Before we go much further, we need to define our terms. What is technology? Above, I used the term very narrowly, only referring to the digital devices, such as computers and smartphones. However, if we are going to think well about technology, we need a broader view. Technology is better understood as any tool we make to shape the world around us (John Dyer’s book From the Garden to the City was instrumental in broadening my understanding of technology). Many people would define technology as whatever was invented after they were born (Dyer, From the Garden to the City), but such a narrow focus is dangerous. We need a broad view of technology because if we narrow our focus, we are setting ourselves up to uncritically adopt technologies outside that focus. And uncritically adopting technologies is how we begin thinking that a moment unphotographed is a moment not worth having.

God Intended for Technology to Exist

The struggle to properly relate to technology and media has led many to conclude that technology is bad. But I do not think that the Bible allows for us to make this Luddite leap. In fact, I believe God intended for us to create and use all sorts of technologies.

In Genesis 1:28 we read this: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

After God makes man and woman and places them in the garden, he gives them a command. They are to “subdue” the earth and have “dominion” over all the living things. God is giving mankind authority over the created order. But what do you notice is missing? God creates the universe by the sheer power of His Word. But we do not see Him granting Adam and Eve this power. So, how will Adam and Eve subdue the earth? How will they have dominion over all the living things? That is left to them to figure out. Obeying God’s command to take dominion necessitated further creation. It necessitated technology.

All Technology is Power

All technology is an extension of power. We create tools to give us the power to shape the world in a particular way. No matter what different technologies we’re talking about, all are extensions of power. From the smartphone in my pocket to my grandfather’s shovel sitting in my garage, all my tools are power tools. This realization that technology is an extension of man’s power is vital.

Not long after we see God grant authority over the created order to man, we see man rebel against God. The serpent comes to Adam and Eve and appeals to their creaturely nature and offers them an upgrade. “Do you want to be like God? Then eat of the forbidden tree. God is holding out on you because He doesn’t want you to be like him.” The serpent’s sale pitch is a winner. Adam and Eve both eat from the tree. And they instantly realize they were sold fool’s gold. The upgrade was no upgrade at all. Rather than becoming God-like, they were filled with a sub-human shame. And the human heart was never the same. Rather than living under the authority of God and His Word, man would seek to live under his own authority.

When Adam and Eve ate from that tree and the human race descended into rebellion, our relationship to technology changed dramatically. The power that technology affords was always meant to be wielded under the authority of God. But now, mankind would wield that power under their own authority. There was no consideration of whether or not we should do something. The only consideration was whether or not we could do it. And if the answer was no, we began trying to create a tool that would make it possible. We appointed ourselves the arbiters of good. And our technologies now bear a weight they were never intended to bear—saving us from the curses God pronounced over the world.

Iron Sharpens Iron

In Proverbs 27:17 we read:

Iron sharpens iron,
and one man sharpens another.

This is probably one of the more well-known verses from Proverbs. The verse is a warning. Be careful with whom you surround yourself. The Proverbs constantly implore us to seek out wisdom and maintain the company of the wise. They warn us against keeping a fool’s company, for we will become like them. And to walk the path of a fool is to love death. Life is only found on the path to wisdom.

The people you allow into your life will affect you, either positively or negatively. Christians generally understand that attending worship gatherings and small groups are vital for our growth in Christ-likeness. Many Christians choose to limit the types of TV shows they watch or music they listen to so that they will not be influenced by an unbelieving culture. And yet, our technologies do not seem to receive the same scrutiny.

I think the reason many do not scrutinize their technology is because they believe that technology is neutral—that the tool itself is neither morally good nor morally evil. The only thing that matters is how one uses the tool. As Nicholas Carr notes in his fantastic book The Shallows, “When people start debating (as they always do) whether the medium’s effects are good or bad, it’s the content they wrestle over” (2). Why do we wrestle over the content? Because we think the medium, the tool, is neutral. The only thing that matters is how we use it.

On the surface, that sounds right. Or maybe better put, we want that to be right. We want it to be right because it gives us the illusion of control. But what we fail to realize is that all our tools have embedded value systems. The people who created that tool embedded a value system, whether consciously or unconsciously, into the design and function of the tool. John Dyer writes, “We assign meaning to the things we make, and then when we use those things and perform cultural practices around them, they reflect back to us the values and meaning we assigned to them” (From the Garden to the City, Location 1595, Kindle edition). Earlier, Dyer quotes John Culkin (a student of Marshall McLuhan) who wrote, “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us” (Ibid, Location 564, Kindle edition).

Perhaps you are little skeptical of these assertions. Let me give you a personal example. My day job is accounting (I moonlight as a pastoral intern). The first tool I was handed when I started my accounting career ten years ago was a 10-key. Accounting is mostly just adding and subtracting, with a little division and multiplication added in. In order to make those tasks faster, I was taught to use an electronic 10-key calculator. After ten years of use, I can add and subtract numbers without even looking at the keys as I type. But when I’m out with my wife on a date and the bill for dinner comes, it takes real mental effort to add up the tip. Why? Why can I no longer do simple math in my head? Because in the name of efficiency (time is money) I was required to outsource my mental abilities to a tool. And that tool has shaped how my brain works and taken away ability I once had.

Redeeming Technology

Marshall McLuhan writes that “our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot” (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, 4). As people of the cross who are called to take every thought captive to obey Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) and to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), it is not an option for us to remain numb technological idiots. But rather, we should, as Peter exhorts us to do, “prepare our minds for action and being sober-minded, set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

The source of a disfigured relationship with technology lies in misplaced hope. When we look at the tools at our disposal or when we dream up new tools to solve our perceived pressing problems, we will be tempted to put our hope in the power our tools afford us. But the gospel frees us from giving into this temptation. We no longer hope in our own ability to save ourselves, but in Jesus Christ. We say along with the apostle Paul that,

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Phil. 3:8-9).

Everything is a loss. Everything is a liability when it comes to salvation. That includes that shiny new smartphone in your pocket. It cannot save you. And apart from Jesus Christ, it will only numb you and kill you. Just ask the guy hopelessly addicted to the pornography he accesses every night via that little flickering screen.

Only with our hope firmly fixed on Jesus Christ will we be able to use technology in a God-glorifying way. Only then will we ask critical questions of the tools we use and ensure that the value systems embedded in those tools are not contradicting what the Bible calls us to value. Only then will be free to use technology and not be enslaved by it. And only then will we be able to run through the sprinkler with our children unconcerned with whether or not the moment was photographed. For then we will know that we have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [us], who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed at the last time” (1 Pet. 1:4-5).

By |November 12th, 2015|Categories: Blog|Tags: |

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