There’s a spirited and healthy discussion going on underneath a post I stuck up on my Facebook page the other day. I shared Matthew Barrett’s thoughtful weigh-in on whether or not pastors should use a paper Bible or a tablet when they preach: “Dear Pastor, Bring Your Bible to Church.” It’s something youth workers should ponder as well. I thought the article was timely, thoughtful, insightful, and needed. That’s why I passed it on. (I did, however, struggle a bit with some of Barrett’s last point on “non-verbal communication” as it seemed to lean towards the kind of problems with showy praying in public that Jesus challenged in the Pharisees.) Still, I want people (parents, youth workers, pastors, etc.) to read Barrett’s post because it’s the kind of thoughtful speculation and pondering that needs to take place in a world where technological change is doubling every two years.
I’m more convinced than ever that when it comes to technology and how we embrace it, we need to ask the difficult questions. You know. . . stop. . . take a deep breath. . . think. Marshall McLuhan was right when he said “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” And we don’t find out how they shape us until years later. That’s when we lament our lack of wisdom and foresight when we first shaped and embraced our tools. We didn’t stop. We didn’t take a deep breath. We didn’t think. As a result, we didn’t proceed with caution.
Do our tools shape us? Let me share something that I saw the other day that really got me thinking. I was in the last few miles of my bike ride on one of my most-traveled and familiar routes. After heading out into the farmland I came back through our town as I always do. As I’m laboring up the last big hill of the route, I saw a couple of middle school kids speeding down the hill on their bikes. They caught my attention for several reasons.
First, this was the same hill I was climbing three years ago on a hot summer afternoon when I took note of a huge, elaborate, wooden playhouse/swingset in a backyard. What struck me that day was that the playset was empty. Not a kid to be seen on it or near it. No noise of screaming, laughing, playing neighborhood kids. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t seen or heard a kid on or near that thing the entire summer. Kids don’t play outside like they used to. Could it be that they are inside on computers, video game systems, etc.?
Second, I was struck that I was even seeing kids outside and on bicycles. It’s not the common sun-up to sundown reality that it was in a pre-digital world. (Am I sounding old yet?!?).
Finally – and here’s the amazing thing – was that these two boys were flying down the hill with their hands off their handlebars. OK. . . we all did that when we were kids. But these kids weren’t going “no-hands” for the thrill of it. In fact, they were also going “no-eyes.” Both of them had smartphones in their hands and they were texting. The thought crossed my mind that I should grab my phone and snap a picture. . . but they went by way too fast. Maybe next time.
“We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” As Christians, we are called to be thoughtful. We are called to be God-honoring. We are called to be transformed, renewed, and counter-cultural. We do so because all of life is to be lived “coram deo”. . . before the face of God and in the presence of God. So, let’s take the time to stop. . . take a deep breath. . . think. . . talk amongst ourselves. . . debate. . . and do so in ways that save us the agony of future lament.
(We’re working hard here at CPYU to think through these issues and offer helpful resources through our Digital Kids Initiative. Here’s a link to a short list of helpful written resources that I’m recommending if you want to read further and hear what some very thoughtful folks are learning about technology and how it’s shaping us.”