Feb 3, 2012

The Stewardship of Technology

by Mary-Elsie Wolfe

In a popular YouTube video, a bridegroom, much to the surprise of his bride and the minister, stops the wedding to change his Facebook status. 

A nervous giggle ripples through the crowd. But, in a weaker moment, have we all not been enslaved by technology? How many windows are simultaneously open on our computers?  Skype, MS net, Facebook, e-mail, chat might all be available while we are catching the latest episode of Big Bang, texting on our iPhone, and doing research on the net.

A CBC documentary talks about a “biochemical payoff” which means we become addicted to the emotional buzz of something “new.” We need that buzz! We even cultivate characteristics that are disconnected from consequences and other aspects of whole personhood – an aspect of addiction.  Leading neurologist, Gary Small, claims that at least 10% of youth meet the clinical definition of addiction to technology.  We blog, we click, we chat – all so quickly – that we start disassociating ourselves from the consequences.  We remove ourselves from the filters that we would normally use in three dimensional relationships, that is, non-social-networking relationships. Meeting House Pastor, Bruxy Cavey says “We cultivate the non-filtered, quick reacting, impulsive ‘me’ that characterizes the ‘virtual me.’”

Cavey reminds us that disembodying the physical world from the spiritual world is actually Gnostic heresy.  Christian, Hebraic, and Jewish thinking affirm that we are whole people and what we do physically affects us in other realms. So, we want to be careful not to unwire our minds in unhealthy ways.  1 Thes 5:8 urges us to have sober minds, minds that connect us to the consequences and actions of our physical beings.  In his series on technology, Bruxy coined the phrase, “the more we live virtually – the more we virtually live.”

In the book of Galatians, Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…”  God paid a high price for us, so that we are not enslaved to this world (1 Cor. ).

Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, provides evidence that our minds are changing because of the influx of technology.  Carr claims that the technologies we use, find, store, and share can literally reroute our neural pathways.  He builds a case that technology carries an intellectual ethic, which is a set of assumptions about the nature of knowledge and intelligence. Carr says:

The printed book served to focus our attention, promoting deep and creative thought. In stark contrast, the Internet encourages the rapid, distracted sampling of small bits of information from many sources. Its ethic is that of the industrialist, an ethic of speed and efficiency, of optimized production and consumption--and now the Net is remaking us in its own image.
In whose image has God created us?  Researchers tell us that because of technology, our brains have been changing.  This was the case even in 400 BC.  Socrates felt strongly that if writing became the norm, people would lose their ability to memorize.  And they did!  En masse, we lost certain memory skills when we started writing; but, we gained others.  With every new technology our minds have changed and adapted, from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press to clocks…

As much as we think we are good multi-taskers, the CBC documentary on technology corrects our self-deception.  We have a perception that we are getting more done; however, partial attention to many things actually shrinks the brain and causes memory loss.  When we switch tasks, our brain has to shut down to start a new task so it is actually taking us longer to do anything.

In one study, a clown on a unicycle rides through a university court.  Sixty percent of people listening to music noticed the clown.  Only 25% of people on their cell phones noticed the clown.  Seventy-five percent of people on cell phones missed a clown on a unicycle circulating in their personal space!  This is called “intentional blindness”.  Researchers tell us we are destroying our central resource.  We are destroying our ability to focus. 

God asked the question of his people through Isaiah – ‘Why are my people enslaved again?... they become fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them and take them back home…”  That`s why we have each other in the body of Christ. The body of believers gently helps us stay in check with each other, away from technology, and to recalibrate with God`s word.  Christ has set us free from the yoke of slavery.

Christian thinker, Henri Nouwen, speaks in a published journal about finding that break from a form of “buzz.”  He writes:

… I realized that I was caught in a web of strange paradoxes.  While complaining about too many demands, I felt uneasy when none were made.  While speaking about the burden of letter writing, an empty mailbox made me sad.  While fretting about tiring lecture tours, I felt disappointed when there were no invitations. While speaking nostalgically about an empty desk, I feared the day on which that would come true.  In short: while desiring to be alone, I was frightened of being left alone.  The more I became aware of these paradoxes, the more I started to see how much I had indeed fallen in love with my own compulsions and illusions, and how much I needed to step back…

How are we going to step back, disengage, and become aware of those things that may be enslaving us?  This just might be one of those things requiring us to be counter cultural. This just might be one of those things putting us in the 25% of those who notice.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, according to The Message, “Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I'd be a slave to my whims.”  1 Corinthians 6:12

The question one reviewer on the CBC documentary asks at the close of his article is a good one: “Can we manage the technology around us or will we let it manage us?”


  1. This is really a great piece! I've just begun to realize that the notion of multitasking in this technology age is really deceptive. I find myself trying to do a lot at the same time, yet not actually having a good grasp of any particular thing. Just when I'm about to read the Bible, I get a notification on my phone and I'm tempted to look at it while trying to scroll through the scriptures. This is not helping in my personal spiritual growth at all. So much noise and little or no time to hear the voice of God!

  2. Thanks Mary Elsie-- this is a really big issue. Richard Beck has some really fascinating stuff on his blog (Experiemental Theology) about the spiritual dimmensions of technology that connects to what your saying here. Lots to think about. Dale

  3. Good comments. I have been giving a lot of thought to the issue. Some of my thoughts are on my blog under the title "Thieves of Time"


    I am glad to see this blog - needed for some time. God bless.

    Keith Lohnes