Being Too Wired Fractures Us from God, Neighbors


So many of us lack the ability or interest in being fully present in this world due to a wireless love affair with the virtual world, Ellis says. (PhotoBucket)
Texting while driving is now the leading cause of death for teen drivers.

People also text so much that it has been linked to sleep problems, and there are new laws being passed in certain states that prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving.

Clearly, we have yet to comprehend how best to use the Internet technology we venerate so much.

"In many cases," said Chuck Swindoll in an interview, "we use new things because they are novel, not because they are helpful."

Though he is critiquing how new technology employed in congregational worship can become an encumbrance, applying this statement to our daily lives should disturb us enough to re-evaluate our own technological practices.

I do not propose that in our postmodern, global culture of instant connectivity that we should shun technology.

I am, however, advocating that we think theologically about technology because how we use it communicates something very practical about our faith to one another and a watching world.

From rural towns to booming capital cities, I have been privileged to serve a diverse assortment of churches and communities.

One common theme I have observed is that everyone tends to be very busy and very wired.

I have known middle and high school students as well as young adults who struggle to engage in face-to-face conversation.

This is partly because they have been reared in a culture defined by the virtual world of abbreviated phraseology, which is full of technophile colloquialisms and acronyms, the ever-changing vocabulary known as "textese" or SMS language.

However, young people aren't the only ones under technology's spell.

I have also interacted with doctors, teachers, stay-at-home mothers and ministry colleagues who suffer from the same malady.

Hiding behind the latest technology, we so often sequester ourselves from the uncertainty and tension of real-world interaction that can be awkward, messy and painful.

This creates a false sense of self and distorts our rightful identity as people who have been created in God's image – an image that calls us to transparency, authenticity and honesty.

Yet it is disturbing that many Christians see no problem with how saturated our privileged lives are by technology, how its overuse or misuse further fractures our relationship with God and our neighbors.

I would recommend Albert Borgmann's writings on this subject, particularly his book "Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology."

Quality has become quantity's unwanted stepchild begging for affirmation, as we indulge in excess and ease – a problem from which technological advancement profits.

So many of us lack the ability or interest in being fully present in this world due to a wireless love affair with the virtual world.

Civility and tact have been thrown to the wind, as conversations are routinely held, loudly and nonchalantly, in very public spaces.

We text until our thumbs hurt. We are obsessed with updating everyone about our every thought through social media.

We are too wired to remember the Sabbath, disregarding its power to help set a helpful tone for our week in slowing down, connecting more deeply with the Lord, and engaging in self-care.

As a pastor I am charged with articulating spiritual truths in practical ways, which I have found is only possible if I don't accept wholesale all that popular cultural tries to sell me.

How we use technology adds or detracts to our witness, as Jesus' disciples commissioned to be in the world, but not of the world.

Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 6:12: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything."

It is exhausting trying to interact with people trapped in the virtual world. It is a challenge to teach generations of people to slow down who are rewarded handsomely, on the surface, for doing so.

It is no small feat to articulate a new vision of how technology can be used to improve, rather than hinder our communication.

But salvation is offered and ultimately consummated in a world that is real, procured by a real God for real sinners, so we can't nonchalantly watch each other fall into a virtual world of escapism.

Prior to vocational ministry, for a handful of years I worked in journalism as an entry-level editor of online content at media conglomerates like USA Today, The Washington Post, National Public Radio and Teen People magazine, so do not hear these words as emanating from a technophobe or old-timey, albeit thirty-something digital immigrant.

I have Facebook and Twitter accounts and a smartphone. I use technology regularly and appreciate the ease that it offers.

Technology can be a blessing, but we must be mindful to never worship at its altar.

James Ellis III is a writer and pastor in Washington, D.C. This article is a condensed version of his recent presentation, "A Theology of Voyeurism, Catfishing and Technological Excess: When the Virtual World Suffocates the Real World," presented at Ecclesia and Ethics II, an academic and ecclesial conference held online. James blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter @PastorPoet.

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Tags: James Ellis, Social Media, Technology, Texting


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