I love technology. Though my eyes are always bigger than my wallet and my wife always keeps my feet firmly planted on terra firma, I marvel at the innovations I have seen even in the last twenty years. What was once science fiction is now reality. More than that, it’s a common way of life.
Take the web, for example. The first movie I remember seeing in the theatre was the original Tron. After seeing it, I immediately came home and re-purposed an everyday Frisbee into my program control disc, vaporizing the freedom-killing forces of the MCP and his minion Sark. But I digress…. Tron was unique because of the the world displayed there—an endless stream of information, coming and going, with the potential for the entire world to be connected digitally. I didn’t realize it then, but through the fictional world of back-lit digital warriors and burgeoning CGI, I was seeing the internet for the first time.
Now such things are not fiction. I can communicate immediately, clearly, and cheaply with anyone around the world, not just over the phone, but through email, texting, chatting, and video conference. I can access near limitless information on any topic at any time by typing out what people in past may have called a magical enchantment—‘Google.’
All of this has been an immense help as a college student and seminarian. It helps me every week as I prepare sermons and Bible studies and give off-handed history and cultural lessons to my kids. I simply type in a few key words or speak to my phone (!) and the information I need appears. The only hindrance being the speed of my wi-fi connection.
But is all of this having a negative impact on us? Nicholas Carr thinks so. In his now-famous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” he gives this important warning about our recent culture-shift along the information super highway:
As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
Through the generosity of others, I’ve had the joy of engaging in both of these activities: scuba diving and Jet-sking. The latter is great. Speeding along the top of the water, with the heat of sun on my face being cooled by the spray of the water, jumping the waves of passing boats—it’s a rush of excitement and fun. Scuba is far different. There is a necessarily slow descent into the depths of the ocean. Gradually images and sea life of the deep come into focus. Colorful and beautiful, the world transforms around you into something almost alien. Fish you’ve only seen in books now welcome you into their world by casually and effortlessly swim around you. There is a transcendence and awe that takes over as you slowly swim and dive deeper into the amazing depths of God’s creation. It is an activity that easily leads to worship.
Where does this leads us in thinking about technology? Christians have long been known as a “people of the Book.” But have we let the good gifts of Google and the iPhone lead to a superficiality with that precious Book? Have we reduced the massive redemptive movement of God, laid down and borne along by his Word of truth, culminating in the Word made flesh bringing salvation for men to a few verses at the end of a quick search? Has knowledge of the Holy learned over a lifetime of study succumb to helpful and needed tips and info randomly and regularly generated like the headlines in our newsfeed? The point, of course, isn’t whether or not we read the Word from a physical codex or as a stream of decoded 1’s and 0’s across a touch-screen. The point is how we frame our mind and soul in the reading.
Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus speaks of his words and our love for him, he doesn’t simply speak of reading and listening but of dwelling and abiding (John 14:15-15:11)?
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. . . . If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. . . .
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
“ If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 14:15-15:11)
When it comes to his Words, Jesus is speaking about slowing down. He’s speaking about savoring more than gobbling. He’s speaking about awe and worship flowing from a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father rather than a quick buzz of spiritual happiness generated by a pit-stop across an endless stream of information.
Let us be on guard then, not simply to Jet ski across the surface of God’s word but to scuba down into its depths. As we read, let us stop and sink down deep in our thoughts that the Word itself might dwell down deep in us. We need more than quick rush of the verse of a day or pat answer to life’s questions. We need depth that brings ballast to our souls in life’s worst storms and awe that leads us to glory in God, loving him more than sin.
Let us enjoy God’s gifts of technology, but not let them dictate the terms of our relationship to him.