How to Determine the Impact of Technology on Our Daily Lives

Many brilliant and creative people have worked over the last few decades to develop digital technology. As with many inventions, the conception and the consequences were years apart, and what was imagined as the possible uses of technology was probably very different from the reality.

So, now we have this amazing variety of tools at our disposal. Nearly every house has a computer, and there seems to be a smartphone in every hand. I have more technology in my purse than NASA had to get men on the moon.

As with anything, there are extremes of attitude about technology. Some take it for granted and don’t think it is important to consider whether or not tech has a positive or negative impact; it’s part of our lives, no big deal. Others are suspicious and fearful, prophesying The End of Civilization As We Know It with every iteration.

I often defend technology as nothing more than a tool, like a hammer. You can use it to build a birdhouse, or beat someone to death. “It ain’t the hammer’s fault what’n you choose to do with it,” as my great Uncle Arnold would say. But I also don’t believe there is such a thing as a truly amoral activity, especially for a Christian who believes in the pursuit of God’s ideals of holiness and virtue.

Is it possible for the hammer, or the smartphone, or the laptop to become evil? Just as “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh,” we could say the XBox or Kindle (or the hammer) reveals the character of the user.

Although the tool itself has no autonomy, it is not without influence because of how it can be used. So instead of dismissing the tool altogether, we should apply the Proverbial trio of “knowledge, wisdom, and understanding” to the task.

Which prompts the questions: “Why did you buy the techno-gadget you have in your hand—for what specific purpose? Is it fulfilling that purpose?”

If we are having trouble figuring out where to draw the line with the use of digital devices, there are questions that can help us weigh our choices against biblical principles, such as:

  • How do our actions affect others? 1 Corinthians 8 is an often-used passage more complex than meets the eye, but it does convey the idea that we should take the effects of our actions upon others seriously.
  • Could we describe our behavior as purposeful and reasonable? Philippians has a lot to say about both of these goals and characteristics.
  • Do our actions and attitudes bring honor and glory to God? Revelation 4:11 is as concise as it gets about our true purpose on earth, and that’s our True North.
  • Are we being good stewards of our resources? Technology is a resource we can use in good conscience—but consider the verses preceding Ephesians 5:16, describing foolish and wise behaviors, and ask whether or not our account of ourselves could be summed up in 1 Corinthians 4:2.

What about the other extreme?

I remember when my mother’s Alzheimer’s began to show itself more visibly. Her paranoia was sometimes disconcerting, but at times it was comical. One day I was doing something online—paying bills, scheduling appointments, I don’t remember, but she came in the kitchen and asked me what I was doing on the computer.

“I’m on the internet.”

“Be careful!” she warned me sternly. “There’s porn on the internet!”

Well, there is, but you actually have to go looking for it. Few have ever “accidentally” stumbled onto a porn site, and with today’s simple monitoring/filtering tools (like OpenDNS) you’d have to be dumber than dog hair to access porn by mistake. And my apologies to the dog hair.

I’ve seen many articles linked on Facebook by fellow homeschool bloggers, and some of them prompt dogmatic comments about how no child needs a mobile phone and parents who allow their children to use technology unsupervised are irresponsbile. One mom even declared how proud she was that her child did not want a phone.

I wonder why he doesn’t want one. I also wonder how he is going to get a job if he isn’t allowed to use any kind of modern technology.

Remember when the radio and television were the biggest threat to our morality? I imagine most of us have heard it called the Hellivision, Boob Tube, Booger Box, and a multitude of other colorful metaphors meant to convey the Evils of Television. Records were played backward to reveal messages invoking Satan, and the lyrics to Barry Manilow songs were parsed for hidden meaning.

The lions, the tigers, the bears. Oh my!

And that was when we only had about 4 channels to choose from and a few rock/pop stations on the FM dial. Today we have access to hundreds of channels and thousands of shows on dozens of platforms, and music streaming non-stop from free apps.

However, no matter how alluring the tech and its features, it’s still the user who is in control of the device. We can’t relinquish the responsibility for our actions to inanimate objects.

We can choose to read, watch, or listen to media that doesn’t advocate immorality, incite lust, or induce covetousness. There are shows that are informative and enlightening. Stories help us learn about other worlds here on earth so we can develop empathy and understand life from another perspective. We even have tools to edit objectionable content from television shows and movies.

A verse often used to summarize how we should make choices about media—

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

This is a straightforward message, but it still has to be weighed in the context. For example, I’m sure Paul wasn’t ignorant of current events in Rome and elsewhere, so this verse isn’t directing us to stop watching the news or reading that biography of Elizabeth Báthory.

I don’t believe we should withhold tech from children, but we should consider how being immersed in media affets them. Although past studies have implied that media usage in young children can be harmful to their development, recent studies have shown that it isn’t the use of devices, but the reasons parents give their young child a tablet or smartphone to play with. Many parents do so to entertain or calm their child, not to teach them. This indicates a parent who avoids their child instead of engaging with them. It’s another illustration of how motive shapes our actions and the results of those actions.

So if we apply the same principles to our kids as to ourselves, we should be asking:

  • Are we teaching them to study to show themselves approved unto God?
  • Are we teaching them ways to safely and responsibly use technology?
  • Are they learning to exercise moderation?
  • Who are their role models, and what kinds of behaviors are they imitating?
  • What physical and mental activities are our kids also immersed in?
  • Are we good examples to our children of the proper uses of technology?

I am the first to say I love gadgets of every kind. There are many wonderful things technology has given us. The ability to connect and communicate with others is one aspect of the Internet I particularly enjoy. I can also use it to save time and money by researching products and prices, and buying online—especially when free shipping is offered. I can keep my budget organized and pay the bills, scan documents and email them to our insurance agent or for some other business purpose. It takes less than 10 minutes to do what used to take days by snail mail or an hour or two by car. Don’t even get me started on how many hours of my life I’ve spent on hold compared to the few minutes it takes to chat online with Tech Support.

Many devices have been reduced in size so information storage no longer involves large file cabinets full of papers. The medical advances alone are incredible and have saved the lives of many of our loved ones. Even our home thermostat is digital and programmable so we can save money on our energy bills.

The Industrial Revolution is far behind us, and we are in the midst of a digital age. To pretend we can live in and minister to this world without ever using modern technology is at best disingenuous. Many careers require a knowledge of hardware, software, and programming languages, and our children need us to provide guidance and help them develop discernment and balance and prepare for their future.

We may feel challenged by the many digital devices we have at our disposal. We can’t take them for granted, but we can’t avoid them as though they have some kind of power of their own.

We can apply our knowledge and spiritual understanding to the use of modern technology as in every other area of our lives, and work to develop virtue and character in ourselves and our children.

5154 reads

There are 9 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Appreciate your thoughts on this.

One thing I'd do differently if I got a parenting do-over is try to limit exposure to video more completely and for a longer a longer time than we did. But the need for this isn't universal. One of my children has not experienced boredom with the plain white page full of text. The other has. In the case of the latter, the correlation between boredom with books (as a category) and fascination with more stimulating media (video and audio) is pretty obvious.

Given how fast kids learn tech., it's not going to hurt them to keep them away from it until they learn to more deeply appreciate the less dazzling, less intense pleasures of life. I'm in the "later is generally better" school for kids and tech.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I agree in the sense that every person is different, and since children are individuals, the how and when of introducing tech (or any other activity) will vary. However, we grew up without tech and see it as a big, cultural-shifting change, so we treat tech advances with greater caution. However, how many things were taken for granted by our parents when we were kids that were intimidating to our grandparents? 

IOW, our kids (and grandkids) will probably not experience the misgivings and concerns that we do about things like smartphones because it just won't be a big deal to them--they'll have a completely different world with it's own issues, and will look at our concerns the same way we view those who were frightened of the unintended consequences of the horseless carriage.

I'm of the 'early is better' because I wanted my kids to not be awed by or immersed in techy stuff. It's just another thing we use to do stuff with, like a food processor or a Dremel. Other than the occasional "my phone is cooler than your phone" competition that Ken and the boys have fun with, no one in our home is enamored with their smartphones or laptops (if anyone is, it's probably me!). Our youngest, for instance, spends most of his time working (he washes and dries and walks dogs at the local pet groomer) or riding his BMX bike with his friends. He's annoyed when all they want to do is play video games or watch movies.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I worry about our children becoming addicted to the soft glow of smartphones and tablets. They're 12, 10 and 7 now.

  • They don't have smartphones, and we will never allow them to have one. My wife and I have normal cell phones. Everybody makes fun of me for having a flip-phone!
  • My sister recently told me she bought each of my children Kindle Fire's for Christmas, which I am not happy about. My wife and I have decided we'll allow the kids to use them as glorified Kindle e-readers.

It really bothers me when I see people wandering around like zombies, staring at their phones. To think this phenomenon didn't exist until the first iPhone came out in 2007! I was watching a fine Christian film the other day, Mission: Impossible 3, and I noticed that none of the characters ever use a smartphone. Why? The movie came out in 2006 . . . before the iPhone. That wasn't very long ago, folks! Alow me to cite another cinematic gem - The Bourne Ultimatum. Jason Bourne meets the reporter at the train station. He buys a pre-paid phone from a vendor, and uses that to communicate with him as they dodge evil assassins. Nobody uses a smartphone. Why? Movie came out in 2007.

I have a tablet, but literally only use it for watching a movie once or so per week. I own a Kindle Paperwhite, which gets considerably more use. I recently decided to explore the e-books my local library has to offer, and am now reading a pleasantly mindless adventure book by Clive Cussler.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but I fear our children will become addicted to the mindless entertainment it offers, rather than the advantages it has. We can't pretend technology doesn't exist, but we need to somehow teach our children how to use it responsibly. In many cases, parents need to learn first.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

If someone was staring at a novel, or their planning notebook, or writing in a journal, we wouldn't think twice about it. But if they are staring at their phone, that's automatically a bad thing, even if what they are doing is making a to-do list, checking their messages, or catching up on their reading. I stare at my phone alot because it's my planner, grocery list, idea notebook, budget tool, mileage log, news-weather-traffic source, audiobooks/podcast streams, and eReader. At night it's my alarm clock and white noise generator. Does that bother anyone here?

Addiction is a character issue--this is exactly what I was addressing in the article. If we think that withholding tech will keep kids from becoming 'addicted' (a term I don't believe should be applied to the use of tech), then our focus, and fear, is misplaced. If we teach our kids moderation and purpose in all things, then you could hand them anything from a cigar to C4 and they will not use it or abuse it.

I'm not saying that people don't have weaknesses that may make them more likely to misuse, abuse, or become overly dependent on something. But it's not the thing itself that has the power over them. I don't think we should look at the tech itself as the problem. Plenty of evils have been committed with nothing more than a rock and a bad temper.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The distinction I'm making is between productive use vs. non-productive use of technology. I'm not referring to the busy mom who stores her grocery list on her phone, or the dad who emails clients from his phone. I'm referring to a mom who is too absorbed in her phone to speak to her daughter. I'm talking about a dad who is too distracted by his phone to play with his son at the playground. I am talking about people who reflexively check their smartphones every 60 seconds on the off-chance they might have a message, an email, or an alert.

That is what I'm worried about, and what I fear my children might succumb to. I'm not necessarily withholding technology from my children, but I am severely limiting what they can do with it. Consider this excerpt from a piece by Rod Dreher:

. . . a new communication revolution is degrading the quality of human relationships—with family and friends, as well as colleagues and romantic partners. The picture she paints is both familiar and heartbreaking: parents who are constantly distracted on the playground and at the dinner table; children who are frustrated that they can’t get their parents’ undivided attention; gatherings where friends who are present vie for attention with virtual friends; classrooms where professors gaze out at a sea of semiengaged multitaskers; and a dating culture in which infinite choice undermines the ability to make emotional commitments.

Turkle finds the roots of the problem in the failure of young people absorbed in their devices to develop fully independent selves,

In short, I do not want my children to see technology as merely a mindless vehicle for entertainment. It can be that, of course, but I also want them to use technology for more productive ends.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Addiction is a character issue--this is exactly what I was addressing in the article. If we think that withholding tech will keep kids from becoming 'addicted' (a term I don't believe should be applied to the use of tech), then our focus, and fear, is misplaced.

Agree with this.

I think there is room for different strategies for teaching responsible use of anything to kids. But the kind of tech we're talking about does have some unique features. For one, we don't yet really know what excessive exposure to overstimulating media at an early age (or indeed any exposure at too early an age) does to brain chemistry, attention span development, etc. I say we don't know because, though the studies may be out there, they have not gained traction yet.

Addiction may not be an entirely unjustified term if entertainment media in particular produce addictive brain chemicals. But I don't have any factual information on that. Seems like a real possibility and I'm sure it's being studied.

But back to the question of "addiction/excess avoidance training." A couple of parenting strategy options are pretty clear to me:

a. Early exposure with early training in self restraint.
b. Intentional delay of exposure so that they're accustomed to "going without" before they learn what it's like to "go with."

To me, b. has some pretty obvious points in its favor. 

  • Kid's have no trouble learning tech at 10 vs. learning it at 2. They aren't going to be "behind."
  • We were created to interact with the real world via our senses and kids should focus on these skills before they start learning to interact with simulation (usually made easier and more attractive than the real world). It's sort of like learning math before you learn to use a calculator. Kids should learn to read ink on paper and write by hand and all that without the distraction of gadgets. Brain first, brain crutches later.
  • The younger a kid is, the less capacity he/she has to learn self restraint. We're doing well in the earliest years to teach basic things like "think before you talk" and "let someone else go first" and that sort of thing. It's along time before they're ready to think "I've spent enough time playing angry birds and should read a book for a while now."

So I guess what I'm trying to communicate is that character is made of non-technical stuff and has no need for tech... and it can be a distraction.

As a concrete example, my son's access to the internet is, by today's standards, extremely limited. We built a computer together last summer, but web access is on a schedule I control, and 100% of that is filtered. No youtube whatsoever. No smartphone because I can't control that.

We have conversations about saying no to porn etc., but there is no way he is ready to deal with that sort of temptation.

And kids being as impressionable as they are, the stakes are much higher for them. Exposure too soon to tech. or anything else can have a disproportionately negative effect. They're called "formative years" for a reason.

But another reason my daughter got her first phone when she was 17 and my son still doesn't have one is that this is not an expense we need as a family. Going without has provided some good opportunities to talk about financial priorities and how to weigh the real value of things. There are also no gaming consoles in our house for similar reasons. For me, much of the tech. decisions are about about communicating values as well as building good habits.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

What's new about distracted parents? Or oblivious parents? How many of us, during the summers of our youth, left the house in the morning and came home before the sun went down? Mom said, "What did you do today?" and we said "Nothing."

Or how about the stereotypical dad sitting behind his newspaper at the breakfast/dinner table? When I was a kid, parents didn't even come to the playground because the helicopter parent hadn't been invented yet.

 Although past studies have implied that media usage in young children can be harmful to their development, recent studies have shown that it isn’t the use of devices, but the reasons parents give their young child a tablet or smartphone to play with. Many parents do so to entertain or calm their child, not to teach them. This indicates a parent who avoids their child instead of engaging with them. It’s another illustration of how motive shapes our actions and the results of those actions.

I agree that seeing a parent ignore their child is grievous, but it's not the smartphone's fault. If that parent didn't have a smartphone, they'd have some other reason to ignore their child, because ignoring one's child is a parenting issue, not a smartphone issue. 

Again, I'm not saying that there are no problems with how people use technology, but it's just another boogeyman on which people can blame society's problems, when what is wrong with society is sinful man not taking responsibility for his/her actions. 

I'm sure that there is some level of addiction possible because most addictions are based on a simple release of dopamine when we achieve a goal or receive a reward. Nicotine, heroin, and cocaine all release dopamine as well, which account for their high addiction rates.

So the approach is, especially in dealing with kids, to teach and train them in the proper sources of satisfaction. 

Aaron- our means of having our kids go without before they go with was simple--they could have a phone when they could pay for it. So--they were able to pay for them at a young age, which was a large part of proving to us that they were capable and responsible. They started out with dumb phones because that's what they could afford, but when they could get their own smartphones, there was no reason for us to prevent them from having one. 

Ditto gaming consoles-they have to buy them if they want them, but they don't play with them often. Maybe during a weekend if the weather is bad, once every month or two.

We bought their laptops mostly for school, and we did have filtering software for a long time. We just use OpenDNS now. But for them to have their laptops in their rooms, we made them a deal--we would trust them until they gave us a reason not to, at which point they would think a room in the Bastille was a luxury suite (that's hyperbole for those of you in Rio Linda). They never gave us a reason, and they are very proud of the trust and respect we have for them. I'm glad now we chose to go that route, because, as you say, they are called formative years for a reason.

We can go back and forth with the anecdotes, and there are plenty that show how people find ways to use and abuse everything from cupcakes to spray paint. But my point is--it isn't the access or the technology that's the true source of the problem. As long as when we teach kids about tech we aren't laying blame for the misuse of tech on the tech itself, then we're good.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm not denying that there have always been distractions, distracted parents, etc. 

And I'm not anti-technology either. But I think there's a balance to be struck for believers that is far more cautious than our culture would have us be.

What makes technology technology is that it does something that was either impossible in the past or that could not be done nearly so powerfully in the past. So when it comes to entertainment tech and today's ubiquitous "infotainment" media tech, what do they do that was impossible before or what do they do far more powerfully than we could do it before?

There are many answers to this, but near the top of the list are "attract attention" and "sustain attention."

But I think we're coming at this from near opposite directions, in a way. You're looking at anything a kid might have the desire or ability to do with tech and asking "why not?" I'm looking at it and asking "why?" ... and generally not finding very compelling answers.

Part of the parenting philosophy calculus is how we answer the question "What is the goal?/What is maturity?" Do we define maturity in terms of marketable skills, self-sustaining independence, or the character to make good choices, handle adversity, think ahead, deal honestly, treat people right, etc.? If the answer is "all of the above" (which I think we'd agree it is), how are these various goals achieved, which goals depend on which others, and which goals are highest priority?

Even parents who agree on the answers to all those questions are going to have different strategies for "getting there."

All I can say for my preferred strategies is that they worked well for me and for my parents before me... and maybe their parents before them. So I have pretty strong bias toward a "sheltering+good habit developing+cautious and slow exposure" model. (Though I feel like I have not executed it as well as I would have liked!)

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I look at anything my kids want to do and ask "Why not?" It's not like they are asking if they can start smoking cigars or drag race down the street. If they were asking stuff like that, I'd be asking "Why are you an idiot?" and duct tape them to a chair until they were 30.

In point of fact, I think the "Why" and "Why not" question are the same question. We don't say "Yes" first and then start considering its use and impact on their lives. We have sheltered them from many things, most notably relatives who thought it was OK for them to undermine and question our choices. We didn't let our daughter watch Disney princess movies because they are insipid and have stupid, harmful messages about romance and beauty. When she wanted pierced ears, we had many conversations about beauty, fashion, and altering her body, and she also had to keep her room clean for 6 consecutive months without being reminded for us to even consider it. It took her 3 years! As a nice side effect, now she is as neat as a pin. Biggrin

I agree with your "all of the above" definition of maturity, but I also believe we have to test our kids' maturity by giving them the ability to make choices while we are in the position of being able to mete out consequences for misuse/mistakes, or help them deal with the natural consequences. I think it's also how we build trust--I want my kids to trust my judgment and experience, but "Because I said so" doesn't really carry any weight unless it has been proved that our judgment really is superior to their lack of experience and foresight.

There've been a few times in each child's life when they wanted to do something that wasn't immoral or illegal, but imprudent. We explained why we thought it was a poor choice, but then left it up to them. They went ahead with it, it blew up in their faces, and then there was the moment every parent treasures--when they came to us and said, "You were right, I should have listened." 

Here's a recent example, just so you know where I'm coming from. Our youngest has a very nice BMX bike (which he purchased with his earnings). He decided that he wanted white rims, but those were too expensive, so he took his tires apart, spokes and all, so he could spray paint the rims, thinking he could just watch a YouTube video and put it back together. Well, he got in a hurry and didn't prep the rims properly before he painted, then he didn't let the paint cure long enough, so putting the spokes back in scratched up his paint job. Then after hours and hours of trying to get the tension right on the spokes without a tension-ometer thingy, he had to pay a bike shop to fix them. And they haven't gotten around to doing it yet, so he has been without his beloved bike for almost 2 weeks. 

We knew it was a bad idea, and told him so. We could have stopped him. But we let him learn this lesson on his own. So next time he wants to do something that maybe has much more serious consequences, he will be more likely to listen.

So I explained all that to show more about our approach so it doesn't sound like we don't have a process, and this process also applies to how we teach our kids about tech. I feel like we have a "sheltering+good habit developing+cautious and slow exposure" model, it's just that our timetables look different, and we don't think tech has any special power to be more of a problem than anything else we might choose to do/use.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.