Technological Disconnect

There’s surely no question that life has speeded up of late. In the minds of many, it seems to be linked with the technology of delivering more and more easily accessible information. We have long been told that we are in the Information Age.

About 20 years ago I interviewed the late Neil Postman, who had written Amusing Ourselves to Death and later Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. He warned back then that so much information was raining down on us from so many sources that we were becoming overwhelmed. He said that without context, it is impossible to make sense of it all. Today we have e-mail, smartphones, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to add to the mix. Many of us are connected all the time, constantly attentive, always replying, never quiet.

But is this always helpful or valuable? Usually, there is a price to pay. As the editors of the Hedgehog Review write in their Summer 2011 issue, “We spend more and more time in front of screens and less and less time in face-to-face communication, as well as less and less time by ourselves without some means of electronic communication to distract us from any possibility of solitude.”

Postman also made the comment that all scientific or technological progress is not necessarily human progress. Just because technology is available does not mean that it is of benefit to the human being. In any case, we should not allow machines to dictate our pace of life. We should not become tools of our tools. God made us to function within limits. His created world operates within certain time frames. Trees grow at a regulated rate. There is nothing to be gained from hurrying. Human beings take about nine months to develop in the womb. It is not helpful to rush the process to completion. Our minds and bodies operate within limits. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. We need to dream. We cannot operate for long without rest. And we are not made to be perpetually connected.

We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”

William Powers, Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (2010). 

When Postman spoke of the need for context, he meant the way in which we frame life. How are information and its flow governed by the frame within which we live? For those who want to live according to biblical principles, the frame is exactly that: the Bible. What does God’s Word tell us about time to fulfill our responsibilities and time to think?

One scripture that comes to mind is Ephesians 5:15–16: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” The sense is redeeming, buying back or buying up time so that it can be effectively used, because we are living in a difficult world that does not reflect God’s values. So in respect of how we use time, we should be getting our priorities right, not wasting time that could be more beneficially used.

And there is more to consider when we talk about having the time to think. The Bible is filled with exhortations to meditate on God’s way so that we can live wisely. But meditation takes time—time that has been set aside for this specific purpose. It cannot be done when our days are filled to the maximum with distractions.

Perhaps we all need to take time to consider whether communication technologies and pace of life have been taking us away from the source of our life.