Never before in history has technology and connectivity shaped the ecosystem of our world. It is the lens through which we view the world. Or, perhaps we should say, the screen through which we see the world.
Things that we consider normal today were considered SciFi less than fifty years ago. The internet was not widely available until the early 90s. Media platforms like Facebook and Instagram were once a novelty. Today, the average person spends 2.5 hours scrolling feeds, watching stories, and liking pictures of their friend’s new drink from Starbucks.
Imagine never having a social media account to manage and never feeling out of the loop because you missed the latest news on Twitter. This is how everyone on the planet functioned less than 20 years ago, but those days feel long gone. Technology has woven itself into the very fabric of our lives. Often, our phones operate more like an appendage than a tool we use. We feel naked without them, get lost when we don’t have them and turn to them at the first twinge of boredom or awkwardness in a conversation.
In short, screens are becoming the world in which we live rather than the entertainment we experience. As Daniel Boorstin wrote in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, “We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illustrations so vivid, so persuasive, and ‘realistic’ that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very home in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very existence.”
Today, those words are haunting. We might wish that they described a dystopian future, but this is the world we live in today. Most people don’t have an issue with owning technology. But more and more people are becoming concerned that maybe just maybe their technology actually owns them. Can you relate?
So, is this the part where I trash technology? Is this the part where I tell you to throw away your iPhone, move to Antarctica, spend the remainder of your days studying whatever wildlife can be found? No.
The Bible never says, “Thou shalt not have a Snapchat account.” In fact, technology has been used in fantastic ways to further God’s work on this planet. Thousands of people can hear sermons each week because of the internet. 500 years ago, the thought of having access to a Bible whenever you wanted was unimagined. Yet, we carry the Bible with us on our phones. There are countless blogs and websites intended to equip people with the resources needed to know and love Jesus better. The issue is not with technology. The issue is how we use technology.
In Competing Spectacles, Tony Reinke says we are hardwired with an unquenchable appetite to see glory. “Our hearts seek splendor as our eyes scan for greatness.” The longing to see greatness is not a flaw in our makeup — it’s intrinsically human. You were designed to marvel at glorious things. And, the entire cosmos was created to direct your attention to the only One who can satisfy that longing. When you look up at the sky, every galaxy you see was created and is sustained by Jesus and for Jesus. When you look down at the ground, every ant you step on owes its existence to Jesus. It was created by him and for him. Every molecule in your body, every ocean and lake, ever mountain, iceberg, boulder, planet, fruit, animal, mineral, and person owes its existence to Jesus.
Indeed, the heavens are declaring the glory of God. Yet often, we look for glory in things that were never intended to carry the weight of our worship. Our society is in perpetual pursuit of entertainment, which Aldous Huxley described as “man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction” in Brave New World Revisited.
Most media is intended to arrest your attention and to captivate you with an endless stream of videos, ads and images. This is how social platforms make money, it is how marketers create loyalty to a brand, and this is how corporations get you to buy their products. It is impossible to overstate the number of distractions that exist in a technology-driven, image-saturated culture. We are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, as Neal Postman put it.
We were not meant to be captivated by an endless feed of images. We were created to marvel at the glory of Jesus, who is the perfect image of the invisible God. How sad it would be if we were so captivated by an endless stream of media that we failed to gaze deeply at Jesus. He alone is worthy of our complete affection and worship.
So how should we respond? What does it look like to live well in a world that saturated by distraction? Here are three rhythms that you can adopt to help you love Jesus well in a world that competes for your attention.
1. Embrace the Rhythm of Solitude.
Every day we are bombarded with an endless stream of notifications and information — the little red dot is relentless.
This is perhaps the most significant advantage of living in the modern world. We have access to information instantaneously. Encyclopedias are mere relics of a bygone era, and no one is complaining about that — Google is far more efficient. This endless stream of information is both a great tool and an increasing threat. “
The endless stream of information that can be tapped into at any moment has invaded every moment. And “because it can be accessed anywhere, it has invaded our lives everywhere.” For that reason, developing a rhythm of solitude is increasingly essential. Solitude is simply the practice of being alone and removed from distraction.
Jesus understood the need for solitude, and though he didn’t have an iPhone, he was no stranger to a world full of distractions. In Mark 1:21-34, we get a glimpse into the ministry of Jesus and find that his life was full of distractions. But we also find that immediately after a long day of ministry and people vying for his attention, he sought solitude. “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
This verse stands in contrast to the busyness of the previous day and the busyness that would follow that week. Often times, we respond to the distractions of life with grand ideas of how we can “make it work.” Jesus, on the other hand, responds with solitude. He still found moments of quiet — moments to be alone with his Father. If Jesus valued moments alone with the Father, we should value the same thing. Often the distractions in life cause us to neglect moments of solitude, but these are precisely the times we most need to carve out moments of quiet. So, find regular times to turn off your phone and embrace solitude. It may seem awkward at first, but it will be good for your soul.
2. Embrace the rhythm of meditation and prayer.
Closely related to solitude is the rhythm of meditation and prayer. We live in a world full of communication but often forget that God wants to communicate with us through his word. He wants us to communicate with him through prayer. Yes, you should wish your mother, “Happy Birthday!” You should keep up with your cousin’s engagement photos on Facebook, but please don’t maintain these rhythms to the neglect of your Father in heaven.
The same God who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) wants to hear from you today. He wants to speak to you through his word. Yet so often, it is easy to allow the endless stream of information to drown out the timeless truth of God’s word. Your Facebook feed is ever-changing. Your Father in heaven is never changing and wants to hear from you today. So, in your moments of solitude, take time to develop the rhythm of meditation and prayer.
The psalmist, David, is an excellent example of this kind of life. He says, “God, you are my God; I eagerly seek you. I thirst for you; my body faints for you in a land that is dry, desolate, and without water…When I think of you as I lie on my bed, I meditate on you during the night watches because you are my helper (Psalm 63:1,6-7).” David understood that true joy and satisfaction could only be found in God (Psalm 16:11). As a result, prayer and meditation became regular rhythms in his life.
One of the best ways to find deep joy in satisfaction in Jesus is to develop rhythms of meditation and prayer. Carve out times to think about the goodness of God in your life and then thank him for it.
3. Embrace the Rhythm of Conversation
You and I are relational beings. We are designed to live life in the context of community. Many of us, however, live such “connected” lives that we don’t live genuinely connected lives. Sure, you know when your boss has a birthday, or your neighbor goes on vacation, but at the dinner table, your wife is more familiar with the top of your head than your eyes. Many of us live in a constant state of FOMO. We think that if we turn our phone to “Do Not Disturb” we will miss out on . . . well, we aren’t actually sure what we will miss out on, but just in case we better stay tethered to our phones to be safe. It is so easy to miss out on conversation right in front of us because we are scared of missing out on hypothetical conversations online. But texting and news-feed comments are a poor replacement for person to person conversations.
That is why, as the church grew, they met, “Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 5:42).” That is why the writer of Hebrews tells believers not to neglect gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). Proverbs 17:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Is it possible to find significant encouragement via online platforms? Of course! But please don’t miss the conversation in front of you for the mediated conversation on your phone.
There is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all answer for how we should interact with technology. We are sailing in uncharted waters, in need of wisdom. What we can know for sure is that technology presents great potential for the kingdom and a great danger to our souls.
Technology is always changing. Your news-feed is always updating. For that reason, it is so vital that we tether ourselves to the unchanging truths of the Bible. If we do this, I am confident that we will learn to use technology for the good of others and the glory of God.