Five Ways to Ensure Our Souls Aren’t Strangled by Screens

Posted On September 19, 2019

1. Cultivate a healthy suspicion toward technology and “progress.”

Technology improves our lives in many ways, so I’m not suggesting we renounce anything with an on/off switch (though that would make your flight attendants happy). But we could do with a little more “distance” from technology, a little more awareness that there was life before the latest innovations and there can be life without it. Neil Postman’s admonition is wise: technology “must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things.” We must understand that “every technology—from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computer—is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore requires scrutiny, criticism, and control.”1

2. Be more thoughtful and understanding in your connectedness with others.

Not long ago I noticed a friend of mine, after incredibly terse emails, was linking to an “email charter” at the end of his messages. I ignored it for weeks (too busy!) but eventually curiosity got the best of me and I clicked on the link. To my surprise the “charter” had very helpful advice about reducing time spent on email: don’t ask open-ended questions; don’t send back contentless replies; don’t cc for no good reason; don’t expect an immediate response. It’s amazing the way my impatience works. If I text someone, I expect a response in seconds. If I email, I might allow for a couple of hours, but with friends I expect to hear back in a matter of minutes. Cutting back on busyness is a community project. We must allow that slow replies and short replies are not rude. Don’t expect with every tap that the other person has to turn his head.

3. Deliberately use “old” technology.

If you don’t want to be dependent on your digital devices, make an effort to get by without them. Read a real book. Write a paper letter. Buy a nice pen. Call someone on the phone. Look something up in the dictionary. Drive with the radio off and the iPod unplugged. Go on a run without music. Stop at a bricks-and-mortar store. The goal is not to be quaint, but to relearn a few practices that can be more enjoyable the “old-fashioned” way.

4. Make boundaries, and fight with all your might to protect them.

The simplest step to breaking the tyranny of the screen is also the hardest step: we can’t be connected all the time. We have to stop taking our phones to bed. We can’t check Facebook during church. We can’t text at every meal. Last year my wife and I had one of our biggest fights because she sharply rebuked me for tweeting at the dinner table. She was right to be sharp, and I promised her I would never tweet during dinner again (a promise I think I’ve kept).

Most families could use a big basket where all the phones and tablets and laptops go to rest for certain hours of every day (dinnertime? devotional time? bedtime? when Dad gets home?). Most of us are long overdue for screen Sabbaths— segments of the day (even whole days) where we will not be “on the grid” or in front of an electronic device. And most of us would find new freedom if we didn’t check our phones as the last and first thing we do every day. Of all the little bad habits I have that contribute to my busyness, the habit of checking my email right before I go to bed and checking it as soon as I wake up is probably the worst.

5. Bring your Christian theology to bear on these dangers of the digital age.

While commonsense suggestions are always welcome, our deepest problems can be helped only with the deepest truths. Because of the doctrine of creation, we must affirm that man-made artifacts can be instruments for human flourishing and for the glory of God. So we do not dismiss new technologies out of hand. But because we have a God who chose us in eternity past and looks at a day as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day, we will not be infatuated with the latest fads and trends. And because of the incarnation, we understand there is no substitute for dwelling with physical people in a physical place. So we do not accept virtual encounters as adequate substitutes for flesh and blood relationships.

Likewise, because we understand our worth as image-bearers and our identity as children of God, we will not look to the Internet to prove that we are important, valuable, and loved. And because we accept the presence of indwelling sin, we will not be blind to the potential idolatries and temptations we can succumb to online. And because we know ourselves to be fallen creatures, we will accept the limits of our human condition. We cannot have meaningful relationships with thousands of people. We cannot really know what is going on in the world. We cannot be truly here and there at the same time. The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omnicompetent, omni-informed, and omnipresent. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance—and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.

This is a guest article by Kevin DeYoung, author of Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.

Notes:
1. Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Vintage,
1993), 184–185.

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