I complained a bit the other day about the pace of technological changes that amaze, and sometimes overwhelm me. But I do use and appreciate a number of them. I am especially reminded of this with our ability to communicate instantaneously on a global level. This morning I read just posted reports from churches in Europe. I am in regular contact with a church in East Africa with whom I’ve made a number of friends. I’ve gotten responses to these messages from numerous Christians around the world. The technology has allowed us to share with and support Christian brothers and sisters worldwide. It gives a much deeper perspective on the Body of Christ beyond the local congregation, or even our national denomination. We are a real part of other Christians whose lives and circumstances are vastly different from ours, yet in the faith and in prayer we are a part of one another. Four millennia ago God had promised Abraham that through Him – through his offspring, Jesus Christ – all the nations of the earth would be blessed. We are being enabled to see that blessing more and more.
I am old enough to have grown up without a TV in the house, and I really do know how to use a dial telephone. We even had a party line for a while. Even though I was involved with electronics for a number of years I still find the change in modern technology rather astounding. We are enjoying a weeks vacation in a rented cottage in Western Maryland. There is a basket on the coffee table with flour remotes in it. I can barely manage to turn the TV on and off. I sat on the deck this afternoon with an inexpensive smart phone in my hand. In a matter of a minutes I had contacted one daughter in Virginia, and another in Pennsylvania. These great technological advances have improved many things in life. Yet in spite of this, it is progress in a very limited sense. True progress is only that which changes the heart. The inner nature of mankind has really not changed in thousands of years. We struggle with the same sins as did our ancestors. it is only the grace of our Lord working through His Spirit that can touch and change our deepest need. Cell phones and remotes are nice, but life truly progresses through faith in Jesus Christ.
We took a trip yesterday of about 500 miles. I was driving, my daughter was riding, and with her phone was in contact with her siblings in Boston, Kansas, and Florida checking on their progress. This is the type of contact we’ve come to expect today. It is very convenient and helpful. It strikes me as interesting though, a journey of 500 miles a couple hundred years and more ago would have put people out of contact for days, weeks, or even months. We appreciate the technological progress, but this does not automatically translate into understanding and wisdom. Journeys were long with many hours to talk, observe surroundings, think about life, and so forth. This, at least, had the possibility of translating into some understanding and wisdom. I am not nostalgic to return to those days, but I do think we need to think more about life and less about instant communication. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that doesn’t come through a cell phone.
There is an aspect about modern technology we should consider. We are totally dependent upon something that is completely outside of ourselves. If, for some reason, all of the cell phone towers, and all of the satellites were to fail, all of these cute little boxes we carry around, with their colorful lighted screens, would be pretty worthless. We don’t give it a whole lot of thought. We take it for granted that when we push the buttons they will work. We also take for granted that we will continue to draw our next breath, but even that is not in our power. Solomon wrote, “Remember your Creator before you return to the dust you came from. That’s when your spirit will go back to God who gave it.”(Ecclesiastes 12:7) It is God who holds our next breath in His hand, and it is by His grace that we live. We laud Bill Gates, and the Steve Jobs for giving us the gadgets, but we need to remind ourselves that we are dependent upon One who is far greater. It is our Lord upon whom we ultimately depend, and to Him all of our honor is due.
I had a check I needed to deposit in the bank yesterday. I know there are apps on a smart phone that let you scan the check and send it electronically to your bank. This is very fast and convenient. I can see where it can have some value. However, I also have to recognize what is lost by doing it in that manner. When I go into my bank I know each of the tellers by name. I ask how they are doing. They inquire about our family. One of the officers gets my Good Morning messages and will sometimes comment on them. To stop in the bank to deposit my check take many times longer than the smart phone app, but it gives me a human contact with four or five people that is far more valuable. I certainly do not disdain all electronics. I’m taking advantage of it right now. But maybe we need to think a little more deeply about what we may lose by always reaching for that smart phone.
Forgive me dear techies. At my age I am obviously not one. So I really don’t understand the craze over the new IPhone7 that came out today. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing but admiration for Apple engineers. I have a Mac Air 13 laptop which I love, but I didn’t stand in line in the rain half a night to get it. And I wouldn’t have been crushed if I hadn’t. I see pictures this morning of groups of twenty-somethings standing outside the store waving their new phones in the air in triumph. That is until the IPhone 8 comes out! It strikes me as an endless quest to find something really lasting and satisfying. As mundane as it may sound, I already have that which is truly lasting and satisfying in the knowledge that my Lord loves me, and has given His life to redeem me. He has given me a life that can’t be purchased. The gadgets are nice, sometimes helpful when they are not frustrating, but they really can’t add anything to the wonderful grace I’ve already been given.
There is an interesting truth about all of this modern technology surrounding us. We are totally dependent upon something that is completely outside of ourselves and our control. If, for some reason, all of the cell phone towers, and all of the satellites were to fail, all of these nice little boxes we carry around, with their colorful lighted screens, would be pretty worthless. We don’t give it a whole lot of thought. We take it for granted that when we push the buttons they will work. We also take it for granted that we will continue to draw our next breath, but even that is not in our power. Solomon wrote, “Remember your Creator before you return to the dust you came from. That’s when your spirit will go back to God who gave it.”(Ecclesiastes 12:7) It is God who holds our next breath in His hand, and it is by His grace that we live. We laud all the technical geniuses who gave us these gadgets, but we need to remind ourselves that we are dependent upon One who is far greater. It is Him upon whom we ultimately depend, and to Him all of our honor is due.
In the corner of my office I have a floor to ceiling bookcase. There are seven shelves holding a few hundred books. Everything on those shelved could be contained within some number of megabytes on one of the new tablet devices. A book would be instantly available by a touch of the finger, and pages turned by the swipe of a hand. It would free up a number of square feet of floor space. Convenient, yes. Part of the wonders of our digital world, but I think of what would be lost. Those volumes have been collected over many years, from many different situations and needs. Some are gifts from people who are important to me; some signed and dated. I look at each shelf. I know what it contains and where I can find what I need. The very top of the shelf holds four wedding picture of couples I’ve married. They too could be in the digital file, along with thousands of others. The digital world is here to stay, and in many ways is very helpful, but as with all technological advances we also need to be careful what we lose by its use. God created man for relationship, first with Himself, then with others, and with all aspect of His created world. We should not let any technology harm that.
The Amish try to live a relatively simple life close to the land. They disdain a lot of the technology that fills our modern world. A person from outside the Amish community was visiting a Amish family. The visiting woman asked the Amish mother if she really would enjoy having a television to watch in the evenings. The Amish mother responded with a question in return. What would I have to give up to have a television? It is an important question worth asking when we consider each piece of our new technology. In truth, we do give up something with each new item, be it time that might have been used for reading, personal conversations with new people rather than listening through ear buds that shut everyone out, or maybe just time to be quiet and think. The sacrifices come in a variety of ways, and we really never consider them sacrifices, but they are. Maybe we would do well to consider what that Amish mother asked. What do I have to give up to have this? We may find that we really would be better off with a little less.
There is an article in the latest TIME magazine on the age of wearable technology, the internet on your wrist or in your glasses. The authors observe that “The reality of living with an iPhone, or any smart, connected mobile device, is that it makes reality feel just that little bit less real. One gets overconnected, to the point where one is apt to pay attention to the thoughts and opinions of distant anonymous strangers over those of loved ones who are in the same room. One forgets how to be alone and undistracted.” What ever happened to “Be still, and know that I am God;…”(Psalm 46:10) or “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”(Isaiah 30:15)? When our kids were growing up I didn’t even want them to have a Walkman, those small cassette tape players with head phone. I said that it shut them out from us, and what was happening around them. Now, I’m not anti-electronics. I’m obviously using it, but we must not lose the ability to be alone, to be quiet, to be at rest, to meditate, and to think. For if we do, we also lose our ability to draw near to our Lord and find our strength in Him.