Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series that examines the subtle effects that the use of technology brings to bear in our daily lives. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 cor 10:31).
The Intoxication of Speed and Immediacy
From creation until the 1900’s, the fastest thing man could use for travel was a horse. For thousands of years, cargo, mail, and man traveled the countryside on horseback or horse drawn vehicles. Until the mid -1800’s, communication was verbal or written. Letters could travel no faster than a horse could run. But since the 1900’s, speed has sped away and changed our lifestyle dramatically! Computer technology has fueled the speed of calculations, communications, record keeping, etc. We are rapidly adjusting to the new “speed of life.” In fact, if we are not careful, we can become drunk with the desire for speed and immediacy and lose touch with valuable realities.
To illustrate dramatic change, consider the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who was born in 1867, in Wisconsin. Her Little House books give us a window into 19th century pioneer living. In a few of her books, she describes what it was like to make long journeys, hundreds of miles long across wilderness and unsettled lands. Laura died at the age of ninety in 1957, the year the Boeing 707 was launched and Russia sent Sputnik 1 satellite into space. The jet age was in progress and the space age had just begun. A journey that once took Laura’s family months to complete could now be completed in just one hour. In just ninety years she had seen the horse and carriage replaced by much faster travel. While that is amazing, the person born in 1957 will see greater changes in ninety years than what Laura saw in her time!
Phone calls have undergone many changes from the early phones until today. Phones used to be more in the category of a tool to carry out important business. True, gossip and cheap talk have always been a challenge with any phone. But the cost of calls coupled with time constraints helped us keep our calls focused more on important things and less on useless chatter. Today with cell phones with us all the time and with “unlimited minutes” phone plans, we can spend more time visiting with friends than ever before. Mothers can spend too much time on the phone and neglect household duties. We can spend our driving time visiting with others. There is a very good side to this if it is used wisely. We can encourage each other. We can make plans, inform others of our needs, and give direction to those for whom we are responsible. Our young girls are safer while driving, with Dad just a phone call away. But we must be careful that our phones are our servants, and we are not their slaves.
With this speed and immediacy comes a dark side that we must be aware of. One business man complained that his employees no longer think for themselves; they just call him. Another father was wisely concerned about his son calling his girlfriend every day while driving to work. A church leader lamented that while there is more communication ability than ever today, his congregation lacks the close knit unity some congregations have known in bygone days without these connections. With this portability comes the challenge of secrecy with phone calls. Youth can call each other from the privacy of their car or bedroom. Camera phones can capture pictures and send them to others.
Today the U.S. Postal Service struggles to survive since electronic mail (e-mail) has brought immediate mail service to our homes. A letter can be sent to friends on a foreign mission field with just a click on the “send” button. A reply can be back within the same day, maybe even within minutes. The cost is minimal; the speed is great. But for every good invention with profitable uses comes some hidden costs and some unseen influences.
This speedy technology has a tendency to shape correspondence today into an informal, cheap tone. compare a written letter from the 1900’s to some e-mail letters you may have read today. E-letters of today tend to lack eloquence and expressiveness. They can be very shallow and trite. They can be hour - by - hour diary type letters. Some friends feel compelled to send them out with such frequency that we experience overload trying to read them all.
Text messaging has this same snare. Youth are already conscious of how much they are “in the loop” of social life. Texting fuels this self - consciousness. They never really know if their friends are texting others and letting them out. For some youth, when their phone is quiet they fear they are rejected by their peers. So they send out messages to see what is happening, at odd hours of the day or night. Subject matter becomes very shallow. Language can become less than ideal. A whole new set of lingo is established. Rules of spelling and grammar are broken mercilessly. Intoxication sets in and they can no longer think straight or drive safe.
Movie clips, amusing sayings, and funny pictures wake up the electrons of many a machine as perpetrators of silly entertainment spend countless hours fueling these trite enticements. For some, when they receive one of these from a friend they can count on a flood as each of their friends forward it on to their list of friends. Some good sayings end by challenging us that if we are spiritual, we will send this on to your whole list of friends. In reality, we need less electronic chatter, more quiet time with God, more assembling with the saints, and more practical Bible obedience. If we are not careful, we can be caught up in Athenian-ism, spending our time “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.”
With this speed and immediacy, we can circle ourselves with a group of friends from all across the land. While we live under the same type of authorities as our forefathers did, we tend to be more influenced by our “e-friends” than by our brethren, parents, and ministry. Our choice of friends has so much more impact on us today simply because they can be with us every day, every hour. They can comment on nearly every aspect of our life and what we are experiencing. Our authorities, who “watch for our souls as they that must give an account,” find that their influence in our lives is being minimized by these electronic friends.
Gossip has gotten a speedy lift around the world with this technology, too. The latest news in a community, whether true or not can spread faster than a wildfire on a wind-whipped plain. Telephones can ring wildly spreading the latest news. With a click of the “forward” button, exact copies of a recent letter can fly out to our friends and they can send it to theirs, and they to theirs. church stresses are complicated when minutes after a discussion or a meeting, calls and letters can fly around at the speed of this technology. Bible directives for addressing concerns and hurts can be disregarded. Proper respect for each other can be violated. It becomes nearly impossible to track down who said what and to help people be accountable for their speech.
The ability to know the latest news from around the world down to minute - by - minute details can be a snare. Even tracking the weather by the minute consumes some people’s time. With this immediacy we now can “live through” events like 9/11, from many miles away from the crisis. I remember the very spot I was standing in Honduras when the mission’s radio crackled to life and we were told about this disaster as it was happening. Electronic media has brought the news from all over the world to our eyes and ears, not just in plain text but moving clips of actual footage.
For some, “to know” becomes a god that is being fueled by technology. Knowing is their pursuit. They are driven to know the latest of every event. They spend hours following news stories from around the world. They can tell the minute details of events from places they have never been. Caught in this intoxicating pursuit, some fail to study their Sunday School lesson, read their Bible, spend time with God in prayer, or lead their family in worship each day. They can become so obsessed with this god that they miss some details of their own family and children while they pursue what seems like greater events around the world!
The feeling of “living through” events of history has a tendency to pull us into the event. We can become “politically” involved in our mind. We can tend to own the problem as ours also. We make conclusions and have opinions. The coming presidential election will be a case in point. How much we follow the day to day events shapes our feelings of involvement even though we do not participate in the actual vote. Separation of Church and State is first challenged in our mind then lost in our practice!
The internet brings billions of pages of information within our reach. A simple search pulls out possible pages for us on the subject. We can find information NOW! We no longer need to send to a company for information to be mailed to us. research is accelerated considerably. Documents, books, and companies that were once out of our reach are now only a few clicks away. The god of “instant answers” can capture our hearts. We cannot wait; we must have it now. We will explore additional influences of the internet in another article. For now, suffice it to say that the speed and immediacy of the net can make waiting on God in prayer seem out-of-date. Patience with our fellow brethren can be a scarce virtue. The black and white pages of our beloved Book can seem outdated.
Because of rapidly changing technology, a person who loves this too much must spend money to replace his equipment before it is worn out just to stay current with the fastest and latest. Stewardship principles are violated. Money is spent for things we do not really need. We are influenced to think that if our friends have one of the newest gadgets, we must have it too. after we buy the gadget, then we want all the apps that go with it.
This speed and immediacy has brought news, information, and people within easy reach of us. It has sped up many of the tasks we do. It has improved efficiency. But for every job that technology saves us time in doing, it offers much greater amounts of other things to consume our extra time. We must honestly look at what we are doing with our time each day. We may need to drink less of this intoxicating influence to have a clearer mind to evaluate whether we are fulfilling the duties God has called us to do with our time.
This new speed of life has brought many blessings to us, but let’s not be blind to the affects it is having on us and our people. Parents and ministry must be alert to these challenges and actively combat the snares they bring. We must stay current with giving direction to this ever changing realm of communication. We must teach the proper use of acceptable technology and draw lines against those that bring too much potential harm. God help us to be ready for the return of Christ and not be drunk with the wine of technology.