We live in a really high-tech world. The amount of technological innovation in just the past century is mind-boggling when compared to any time before the Industrial Revolution. Even in my own lifetime, we’ve gone from watching shows on VHS to on-demand streaming on smartphones. This nosebleed-inducing pace of technological change can seem like a lot to keep up with and, if we’re not careful, it’s easy to forget the role of technology.
With as rapidly as technology changes, it’s easy for us to think of it as if it were some overwhelming, irresistible force that will shape our lives whether we want it to or not, almost as if it had a mind of its own. This can lead us to feel helpless in the face of technological advancement, so that we simply acquiesce to the latest developments in technology without even thinking about whether we actually want or need them. This can turn us into servants of technology, which is the exact opposite of the relationship we should have with it.
According to Webster’s, technology is ‘a capability given by the practical application of knowledge.’ Thus, we can make iPhones, cars, AR-15s, and the internet by applying knowledge of different fields to solving problems that we encounter in the world. All of these devices, services, and machines are tools for you to use as you see fit. Even the much ballyhooed algorithm is really nothing more than a very very complicated calculator. Like any other tool, high-tech devices are there to serve humans, not the other way around.
This frequently gets inverted, however, and people end up becoming servants of technology. It never ceases to amaze me that people will go into debt for a new iPhone, when the one they have meets their needs just fine. Likewise for people who spend hours on Facebook or Instagram trying to impress people they barely know and don’t even like with airbrushed pictures of how well their lives are going. At best, it’s like a carpenter who spends hours every night polishing his hammer, and gets a special carrying case for his hammer, and pounds nails with only the gentlest of taps so he doesn’t hurt his hammer. And when the latest model of hammer comes out, he immediately goes out and goes into debt to buy that one, because he has to have the best hammer.
Now, you might be thinking that this carpenter is a grade-A moron, and you’d be right. The carpenter has become the servant of his hammer, which is not how these things are supposed to work. Our carpenter’s problem is that he’s putting more work into the hammer than he is getting benefit out of having it.
It’s easy to laugh at the thought of a carpenter obsessing over his hammer, but it’s common to do the same thing on social media. People, especially young women, spend an inordinate amount of trying to get the perfect photo for Instagram so that their followers will shower them with likes. Others will spend too much time keeping a car looking brand new, or keeping up with the latest advances in computer hardware. This stems from not remembering the purpose of technology. Technology is a tool; nothing more, nothing less. Technology exists to be useful to humans, and that is its sole purpose.
Like with any tool, we should ask ourselves if a given technology is useful and beneficial to us. Questions like ‘what will this do for me’ and ‘is this worth my time’ should be top of mind when we consider the technologies we use. If a technology doesn’t benefit you, don’t use it, even if all of your friends do. For example, if scrolling through Instagram makes you feel like everyone else has a better life than you, just ditch it. It’s not serving you, so there’s no point in giving it your time. Unlike people, technology is just there to be used when it benefits you and discarded when it doesn’t. Keeping technology in its proper place not only saves time and money, but it also keeps it from becoming an idol.
There’s no feeling quite like being ignored by a ‘friend’ scrolling through their social media. If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve almost certainly seen it. Some people are more interested in their smartphone than in the world around them. If you’ve seen someone like this lose their phone, it’s reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the lost coin, how thoroughly they search and how desperate they become when they can’t find it. Any technology that, when lost, causes you to go full Gollum has way too much of a hold on your heart, and has probably become an idol. Smartphones aren’t the only technology that can take an undeserved priority in our hearts, any technology can become an idol. Contra this stupid Lexus ad that Spotify keeps giving me, you should not fall in love with your car. As a general rule, if you don’t know what you would do without a piece of technology you should carefully examine if it’s actually as irreplaceable as it seems, and ask yourself how much benefit you’re getting out of it versus how much you use it. Obviously, there are some things, like medical devices, that you genuinely can’t do without, but a good test is to try and get along without the technology in question for a week or so (assuming of course that you won’t literally die without it). You may find that you don’t need it as much as you thought you did, or at least find another way to do the things you used it for. It’s not good to be dependent on technology if you can help it (again medical devices keeping you alive don’t really count).Ultimately, the purpose of technology is to serve humans and make our lives better and easier so that we can serve God more. Technology takes time and effort to use and maintain, but just like the oxen in Proverbs 14:4 it can be very useful. The important thing is to make sure that your technology works for you, not the other way around.
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