Monday, September 19, 2022

Modern Tech's Great Revelation


It's no secret that technology is a two-edged sword. We've all heard the ways that our phones are changing us and we're well-acquainted with the dangers of the internet. We all know about the distractions and annoyances. But lately I've been thinking about the detrimental sin that is being exposed through smartphone and internet dependence -- and I'm wondering if we even realize what's happening.

Our relationship with our phones and the internet is a major factor for nearly all of us in nearly every facet of our lives. To be in the loop, you have to be connected; to be connected, you need this piece of technology; to use this piece of technology, you need these apps; to use these apps, you need to get notified; to get notified in a timely manner, you need to keep this piece of technology, with its apps and notifications, with you at all times so that it can tell you what it wants when it wants, regardless of whatever else may be going on.

This is bad.

This phenomenon that has swept the globe is not merely a pit of diversions and interruptions; it is, in many cases, a revelation of destructive lies that are corrupting our thinking and living.

My goal here isn't to convince you to be Amish. I should confess, though, that lately I've wondered if they weren't on to something with their refusal to adapt with the times. My heart is for Christians to think rightly and live wisely. Scripture calls the people of God to be very careful about the choices they make in life -- that wisdom would be a priority in all things. I enjoy the King James in this passage where it says, "Walk circumspectly." This means that God's people should make decisions with exactness, with a concern for accuracy. The goal of this precision is given just a few verses before: "trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord," (Ephesians 5:10). That's my goal here.

Feigning Omnipresence

Picture in your mind's eye a typical waiting room, airport gate, or coffeehouse -- any room with people and chairs, actually. What are you guaranteed to behold? The overwhelming majority of those people, if they're not engaged in direct, intimate conversation with someone else, will have in their hands a solid black rectangle with a glowing screen. These people are in the room, but in a much more real sense, they're not in the room at all.

Consider that scene from The Matrix. Remember how, to enter the Matrix, each person had to connect themselves to the big machine via that port in the back of their heads? (Admittedly, it's been a while since I've seen the movie and I didn't quite comprehend everything that was happening.) The bodies were in the room, but the people weren't really in the room -- they were actually living in the Matrix.

They're in the room, but in a much more real sense, they're not in the room at all.

This is how I've come to feel when I pull out my Moto G at Great Clips while I wait for my turn to get my ears lowered. There will be people to my right and to my left, but that doesn't matter. I enter my own Matrix -- the internet. My body is stuck in a 850 sq. ft. room, but my real existence is floating around in cyberspace. The people around me don't mind -- they're often doing the same thing.

What is this?

On the one hand, it could be said that this is just a better version of what used to be reading old magazines. Instead of checking out a months-old edition of Newsweek, we're able to connect with the latest and greatest information sources available to human beings (on this point, make sure to read the next section).

On the other hand, it could also be said that when we do this, we're seeking the omnipresence that belongs to God alone. As I once stated in a very low-engagement post on Facebook:

Why is it that we have become so allergic to the idea of being stuck in a specific spot with no immediate connection to anything outside of our specific spot? Why do we hate the idea of being "trapped" in an airplane for three hours or a waiting room for thirty minutes? It's almost as though we've completely forgotten that this was the normal human existence until a very short time ago.

It seems as though we've also forgotten that God didn't make us to live a faux-omnipresent existence. We were not made to be omnipresent. We are (very) limited beings and we can't handle this incommunicable attribute of God. Yet we've been given a device and we've been fed a line. By and large, we've taken the bait hook, line, and sinker.

Straining for Omniscience

Another attribute of God that we're tempted to seek to usurp by our relationship with technology is His omniscience, or His knowing all things. No sane person would ever admit this, of course, since it's plainly obvious that no human could ever know all things -- but boy do we try. 

If your experience with your phone is like mine, you're alerted by a diverse smattering of interesting notifications and headlines throughout each day. If you walk away from your phone for an hour (quite the feat these days), you'll come back to a lineup of statements that sends your brain in dozens of directions at once.

  • Your friend reacted angry-face to your post on Facebook
  • Your video doorbell detected some motion
  • The Cowboys lost to the Eagles 17-14
  • Your aunt uploaded to Instagram for the first time in a while and you should check it out
  • President Biden is set to release a statement on supply chain issues
  • Your neighbor texted you to let you know your dog got out again
  • UPS sent an e-mail saying your package got delayed by at least a day

This is burdensome, isn't it? But think about what all of these notifications have in common. It's as though our phones are screaming at us, "THESE THINGS ARE GOING ON IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW AND YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM."

Since when did we need to know so many of the goings-on in the world? And who are we to think that we could even handle this much information?

There's a proverb that says, "Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not his own." Sadly, many of us have seemingly lost sense of what is our "own" business. The age of instant (and constant) information has successfully drawn out our desire for divine ability and we've often given in to the technology that says each day, "Hear of these matters, and worry about them."

Satan was kicked out of heaven for his desire to unseat the Almighty. His proclamation, "I will make myself like the Most High" surely had reference to knowledge, amid everything else he meant. He pursued omniscience, but he wasn't made for that -- and neither were we.

Ignoring Our Neighbors

As humanity has collectively found a way to meet up in our own Matrix and pursue constant awareness of everything that is happening in the world, the results have been predictably pernicious.

Twenty years ago, the strange person in the neighborhood was the one no one knew much about. He was the one who kept to himself, didn't socialize, and rarely left the house. Today, that guy is basically a normal guy.

Modern technology has made our communities digital. Why would we waste our time with real-life neighbors -- who bring to the table diverse (and sometimes adverse) ideas and lifestyles -- when we could enjoy the company of an online echo chamber customized to our liking? No longer do we desire to get to know those who live closest to us (in fact, many won't ever learn their neighbors' names); rather, we're readily satisfied with shallow long-distance relationships mediated by phone screens.

This shift in cultural engagement hit me anew recently when I saw a photograph of Albert Pujols's 695th career home run. As a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I've been following them with great interest this year, as there are many exciting things happening. In this photo, though, I was struck with something besides the activity on the field. I could not believe the number of people who experienced such an historic event through their phone screen, even though they were the closest ones to the action.

My first reaction to this scene was essentially pragmatic. "Do you guys really think that 20 years from now, you're going to go back to the poor-quality, non-zoomed video from your phone instead of watching the high-quality broadcast?" But then it occurred to me that it's not likely that these people were thinking about the distant future at all. Some of them were probably live-streaming for their social media accounts, and others were recording so they could upload their videos to social media later. Not content to simply say they were there, it was crucial that there be video evidence, recorded by each one personally.

Instead of taking in the moment with their neighbors, instead of soaking in the scene by surveying it all with their own eyes, a very large portion of people would rather engage life through a screen. We've been conditioned to care about our digital communities more than our actual communities. We've been programmed to care about programs more than people.

Exalting Ourselves

Going against God's good design always ends up in the same place: self-worship. Since we can be out of the room when our bodies are in the room, and since we can access all current information at any time, and since we have the support and affirmation of our tailor-made digital communities, we can therefore have great confidence that we are very important and our opinions are gospel.

Take a moment to embrace the gravity of this headline from CBS News:

The video found in the article contains many more details about this frightening state of affairs. When cyberspace is the focus, the real world fades away. When we care mostly about exalting ourselves, we care very little about loving our neighbor.

I'm always aghast when I see cell phone videos of abuse. Lately, there have been recorded instances of large high-schoolers physically abusing smaller high-schoolers in school restrooms. Perhaps you've seen videos of nursing home workers repeatedly striking old, disabled dementia patients as a form of entertainment. What gets to me about these videos is not just that the main event is taking place, but that there is a person capable of stepping in and helping the situation who has chosen to record it passively instead. 

Scripture speaks of such depravity. At the end of Romans 1, the apostle Paul says that as God hands people over to their sin, they come to the place of being loveless. That word could be translated "heartless," meaning to be devoid of any warm affection toward other people.

I can hardly think of a better way to describe much of society today.

As the pursuit of divine attributes has taken precedence in people's lives, through the means of the devices that connect us all, love has truly grown cold. It has now become much more surprising to hear of acts of kindness than to hear of acts of violence or aggression. Hatred is on the rise, and hatred sells. What fuels so much of today's hatred is a worship of self that sees real-world neighbors as mere mortals and the online echo chamber as a council of the gods.


There are reasons to believe that many of these problems could be eradicated if we rewound technological advances about 30 years. Some see a fix in just going back to flip phones. But, at the end of the day, this can't be the answer.

Just like contracting a common virus will sometimes reveal a much more serious health issue that was lying underneath the surface all along, it seems as though modern technology has exposed our hearts as natural followers of Satan's terrible desire for godhood. Much of what I've written here I've written for myself. This is, in many ways, a devotional for my own heart.

There is a way to embrace new technology and still "walk circumspectly." Getting rid of the phone or the computer is not always the answer. But sometimes it is.

How should we, as Christians, move on toward the goal of pleasing God in this present age? How, in this society, are we to love God and love our neighbors (like, our real neighbors)? How can we count others as more important than ourselves?

The answer will be different for each of us, but perhaps this has given you something to think about. I know it's given me plenty to consider. 

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