Recently I took thirteen Christian undergraduate students on a field trip to Southern California. One morning, after our buffet breakfast at the Best Western, we got together in the hotel foyer and chatted about faith and technology.
It provoked at least three observations for me.
1. Technology makes information more accessible and learning less common.
Google, Wikipedia, and other search engines provide more information in a fraction of a second (literally) than people in past generations could accumulate in years. We have information pouring over us all the time. Siri can answer almost any question that we have. We no longer need to memorize anything; not even Scripture. Everything is at our finger-tips.
The implications for faith are profound. While we spend our days bouncing between informational bites, we spend less time than ever (perhaps) soaking in the deeper existential and theological questions related to our souls. And when we do lie awake late at night pondering God, Christ, existence, and eternity, we have undeveloped frameworks to guide our reflections.
2. Social media increases social contact while it decreases social competence.
Social media connects us to a lot of people quickly and briefly. We can share more snapshots of life with more people than ever, but this does not translate into social competence. We’ve become masters of indirect communication (with a range of emoticons), and may be losing our skills in direct (face-to-face) contact.
This will impact marriages, families, churches, and workplaces dramatically in the years ahead. But it also impacts faith.
Faith has a social context. Despite the individualism of our culture, faith calls us into community. It needs community. It nurtures community. It develops and forms as we practice “presence” with Christ and with each other. Social media cannot produce this necessary “presence,” where authentic relationships flourish.
3. Social media has created a culture of interruption.
Finally, technology has become an umbilical cord between us and the world. Fasting from social media for 24 hours would strain many of us. We have formed an addiction to the unexpected buzzes and tones of our phones telling us that someone else wants a moment of our attention. We are like gamblers watching the tumblers on a poker machine.
The culture of interruption has established itself as our norm.
This impacts our faith deeply and broadly. Have we lessened our capacity to be still, to focus, to be attentive, and to be undistracted in God’s Presence?
If we do not hear the voice of Christ speaking to us, guiding us, confronting us, and comforting us, how can we follow Him? How do we trust One whom we cannot follow because we cannot hear? Are the incessant interruptions (which we cultivate and welcome) lessening our walk with Jesus?
We chatted for 45 minutes that morning in Valencia. Being the distracted generation that we are, the conversation drifted all over the place, like a bird flitting around a tree. That in itself may tell us something.