Have you ever thought about how many of your activities today would have been impossible when your parents were your age? For many of us, our day begins and ends with our eyes glued to our smartphones. Technology has some amazing benefits, but it can also create some challenges for our lives, relationships, and faith.
How Technology Has Radically Changed Modern Life
Technology is nothing new. Throughout human history, we've developed technological advancements that have altered the way we live. Today, however, we're living in what has been deemed the technological revolution. With world-altering advancements computers, cellphones, and the internet, our world has changed radically in a relatively short amount of time.
The better question may be how has technology not changed modern life. Recent technological advancements have impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Compared to a few decades ago, we communicate differently, work differently, learn differently, and play differently. Even the way we date has changed. We're guessing your grandma didn't swipe right to meet your grandpa, and grandpa didn't "slide into her DMs."
Social media alone has had a major impact on our lives. Today, more than three-quarters of internet users are on social networking sites, and the average person spends almost two hours on social media every day. For teens, that number can be much higher. If you're wondering how much time the average person spends online as a whole, the answer is 23.6 hours every week.
With so much of our time going to using the internet, it's no wonder that we can run into some technology-related challenges in our lives, including our faith walks and relationships with others.
The Common Problem of Technology Addiction
Have you ever decided to unplug for a while and found yourself struggling far more than you expected? Maybe the urge to check your email or social media platforms was overwhelming, or maybe you couldn't help but turn on the TV to relax. Perhaps you had to log into Instagram to update your followers on how the technology fast is going — #notgood. In today's world, it's normal to use technology frequently, but for some, this use turns into an addiction.
The term "technology addiction" became common in the mid-1990s when people began to become concerned about how much of our time and attention was going to technology use. Today, people spend more time online than ever, and the concern over technology addiction is even stronger. This isn't just an American issue. It's worldwide — wherever internet use is prevalent. There are more than 300 internet addiction centers in China, for example.
How can you tell if you are addicted to your smartphone, TV, laptop, tablet, or any other type of technology? According to Psychology Today, you should ask yourself some questions about the role technology plays in your life. The number of hours you spend online isn't the best measure to pay attention to since many of us use the internet constantly for our jobs. Instead, think about the emotional attachment you feel to technology. For example, do you feel a rush or a mood boost when you use your phone? Do you feel anxious without it?
The Impact of Technology on Your Faith
According to one study, the rise of technology — specifically, the internet — is closely tied to a decline in the number of Americans who consider themselves religious. This finding may seem alarming, but to those of us whose lives are built on a strong foundation of faith, technology can't take that away. As we'll see, it can even help us in some ways. However, it's still valid to ask whether your use of technology is hurting your faith.
There are a few ways the prevalence of technology today can negatively affect our relationship with Christ:
1. We Have Trouble Focusing
Have you ever found yourself thinking about what you're going to have for lunch while you're listening to a sermon or ended up thinking about your fantasy football team while you're praying? You can admit it if you have trouble focusing at church or during your devotions because it's a problem that affects nearly all of us. Research shows that technology may be partly to blame for our short attention spans.
For one, we're used to seeing and digesting information in short bursts, which can make it hard to focus on a message that's longer than 280 characters. Another factor is that modern technology has trained us to multitask constantly, which makes it hard to concentrate fully on any one thing. This can make it especially challenging to have quiet time with God where we listen for His voice. Instead, we find ourselves listening for the notification tone on our phones.
2. We May Be More Skeptical
A less obvious consequence of technology for Christians is that, for many of us, it has trained us to be more skeptical. Sure, you will always have that aunt who urges you to forward or share a picture of Jesus to cash in on blessings and avoid ten years of curses or a coworker who embraces every conspiracy theory they see online. However, most of us who are used to all the online nonsense, both obvious and subtle, have learned to be skeptics.
This is an important survival strategy for navigating the wild, wild web, but it can be problematic when we bring this same level of skepticism to our Bible reading. How can we know the authors of Scripture weren't spreading fake news? Historical data lends loads of credibility to the Bible, but beyond that, we should have faith to accept Scripture "not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God," as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians. We know that God's words are always true.
3. We're Exposed to Temptations Online
Technology in and of itself isn't sinful, and the internet certainly didn't invent any new sins. As Ecclesiastes 1:9 famously says, "there is nothing new under the sun." The same faults that plagued Adam and Eve are plaguing us today. However, the internet doesn't do us any favors when our goal is to avoid temptations.
For example, if someone struggles with a shopping addiction, they may avoid the mall, but everywhere you turn online, you see ads for online shopping. Many people today find themselves struggling in major ways with pornography, which is more accessible now than ever due to the internet. Even though Christ has forgiveness for lack of self-control, lust or any other sin, we know that sin can hurt our lives and relationships, and, for some of us, the internet adds to the problem.
4. We Can Become Disengaged
Have you ever gotten home from work, and the next thing you know, it's time to go to bed? Where did your evening go? In many cases, our default is to turn on the TV, open up our laptops or pull out our phones to entertain ourselves. We get sucked into our favorite shows that don't have any bearing on our real lives or watch cooking videos of recipes we know we'll never make.
There's nothing wrong with kicking back or even vegging out from time to time, and who knows, maybe one day you'll tackle that 40-layer lasagna. Generally speaking, though, when we give too much of our free time to online activities, we can begin to feel disconnected from reality. Our thoughts can become more focused on our online lives than they are on our real lives and our spiritual walk, and we can begin to feel stuck. As with any relationship, if you want to grow in your relationship with Christ, spend more time focused on Him.
The Effect of Technology on Your Relationships
Technology doesn't just have the potential to affect our relationship with God — it can also affect our relationships with the people in our lives. This includes family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, romantic interests and spouses. For those of us who grew up with the internet, it's easy to miss the profound effect modern technology has had on our relationships.
Technology can be a tool we use to bring us closer together with other people, but it can also become an obstacle to developing deep relationships. Let's look at four ways technology can negatively affect our relationships.
1. We May Opt for Quantity Over Quality
Have you checked lately to see how many friends or followers you have on social media? Maybe you're one of the more than 20% of Facebook users who has over 500 friends. Even if you "only" have 100 friends or so, chances are, these are not all people you would consider yourself close with. Common sense tells us we can't possibly maintain close relationships with such a large circle of people.
Some of us may find ourselves staying loosely connected with a large group of people rather than focusing our relational energy on a few truly meaningful relationships. The result is that we have many shallow friendships and miss out on the joys of having close friends. God made us to live in community with other people and to share our life experiences with true friends, not just a long list of followers.
2. We Can Isolate Ourselves
With so many opportunities for entertainment online, many of us choose to give our free time to activities we can enjoy alone, like streaming our favorite show or playing a game on our phone. Some alone time is healthy and necessary for many of us to recharge. However, with all of these sources of entertainment taking up our time, we may not spend the time and effort we should on our relationships. We may end up isolating ourselves simply because it feels easier.
Technology doesn't just distract us into isolation through entertainment. Research shows that social media, specifically, can contribute to feelings of isolation. In one study, people who spent more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to feel socially isolated compared to people who only spent 30 minutes or less. This could be because some people look to social media as a replacement for the types of relationships they really long for.
3. We're More Prone to Distraction
Have you ever been hanging out with a friend or lying next to your partner in bed and realized you're both on your phones? Modern technology can be an ongoing source of distraction that pulls us away from spending quality time with our loved ones. Research shows that merely having your phone out, even if you're not actively using it, can diminish the quality of our conversations with other people.
It's as though our phones, and technology in general, is always pulling at our attention. In the middle of a conversation, you may wonder how many likes your most recent post is up to or whether you have any new emails. Sometimes we need to put our phones away completely and unplug so we can focus on the people God's given us to do life with, whether it's a friend, family member or partner.
4. We Communicate Differently
Communication is a key aspect of any relationship, and technology has had a profound effect on how we communicate. Today, we can communicate with people in a variety of ways, including apps, private messages on social media, texts, emails and more. Phone calls and face-to-face conversations are still an option, but nearly 75% of Gen Z and Millennials in America say they prefer text.
Texting and instant messaging can certainly be convenient, but they come with some drawbacks. For one, it's easy to have misunderstandings through written communication. This is especially true when we shoot off a text without giving much thought to the words we use. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the power our words have to either build up or tear down. Failing to choose our words carefully can be damaging to our relationships at times.
The Potential Benefits of Technology
A discussion of technology shouldn't be all doom and gloom. Technology has spurred some positive changes in our society, from medical advancements to global interconnectedness. There are also some great benefits for Christians who want to enrich their lives, their faith, and their relationships. Technology and Christianity don't need to be at odds — technology can be a helpful tool in your Christian life.
For example, Christians have unbelievable access to resources today when studying the Bible. You can look up different translations, definitions, and commentaries to help you get more out of a Bible reading. You can also use the internet to listen to sermons or podcasts that enrich your life. Many churches, including Cornerstone, even offer livestreaming of their services.
It isn't just Christian resources that make modern technology beneficial for Christians. The opportunities for instant communication that the internet and texting provide can help us stay connected with people we care about. When we think of a person who may need some encouragement, we can pick up our phone and immediately send some support their way. When we have a prayer need come up, we can send an email to our pastor or friends to let them know.
The wonders of technology may lead us to marvel at the genius of people, but the truth is that technological inventions reflect our Creator who made us in His own image. No wonder people can't help but continuously come up with new inventions. The key is how we use them. Technology is a tool. It can create some challenges, but you can also use it for good.