It seems that anyone wishing to write a piece urging people to consider what smart tech is doing to their heads is branded as a Luddite, or at least gets tagged as having Luddite sympathies. So before you grab your L-shaped stencil and your scarlet thread, let me clarify. I don’t think smart technology is evil; I do, however, think we need to consider carefully its effect on our lives, perhaps in a way that has not often been done.
The argument often made against smart tech is that the portability, privacy, and accessibility to the grid these devices provide makes it easier than ever for people to sin. This is true in many ways. Sexual immorality, coarse speech of all kinds, and the indulgence of all sorts of perversity and cruelty are much more tempting when we think no one will know that we have engaged in these activities.
But as much as this needs to be thought through, I think there is a much more subtle danger inherent in smart tech, one that affects even mature believers who have never fallen to the temptations named above.
Think about how your phone and tablet operate. If you’re reading an article on the Washington Post app and someone texts you, what happens? If someone pokes you on Facebook, or likes your picture on Instagram or replies to your tweet, what happens? A notification drops down on the screen, inviting you to leave whatever you’re engaged in for the moment to tend to the distraction. Distraction is a big part of what smart technology offers, though it would never be couched in that language. Is this a sin? Goodness no. If you want to be pulled away from Temple Run every time someone tweets at you, I suppose that’s your prerogative.
But now it’s six in the morning and you want to spend time with God. Do you feel the same restlessness that I do when you open your Bible? The same invisible pull, the same desire for distraction? There are a few virtues that are practically required for Bible reading, and focus is one of them.
How about when you go to prayer, looking to intercede for a suffering brother or sister? How about when you decide to meditate on the goodness of God, or memorize a few verses of Scripture, or have a serious conversation with a hurting friend? Focus is focus in every area of life– you cannot train your mind to crave distraction all day without consequence.
I don’t think smart tech is evil. I do think that the heart of every man and woman is evil (Genesis 6:5), and that the redemption bought for us in Christ Jesus urges us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 4:12). No Christian has ever coasted into godliness, and to use the things around us without careful, prayerful thought will tend toward sin. Grace, and the disciplines of grace, are far too precious to engage in on a surface level simply because we enjoy browsing eight social media apps at once.
I’m not urging anyone to ditch their phone. But do this: follow Jesus, enter into sweet communion with him, and if you find that smart tech impedes your ability to do this, then find another use for it. And if you find it has a hold on you greater than you thought, then consider putting aside the tech for a time. Perhaps smart tech, like the solid food of Hebrews 5, is for the mature, “for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).