(Photo ‘Social Media’ courtesy of user Sean MacEntee and Flickr).
No legitimate argument exists to support the premise that technology has had little impact upon the lives of people. It is far-reaching and fast-reaching and even a comparison of a short timespan can show how quickly technology changes and how quickly it makes its way into everyday living. Thus, there can be little doubt that as technologically advances more, we can expect our lives to continue to change in the upcoming year(s). Many have documented that technology is both a blessing and curse and to discuss that here would be redundant. However, as I look at the impact of technology in my own life I am compelled to consider its impact upon our interactions with one another.
Technology has become a substitute for genuine relationships; again this is yet another fact well-documented by others, yet few take the time to truly consider the specifics of what is meant by that, specifically in a Christian context. While Facebook, Twitter, and others connect people worldwide through sharing platforms, it is the development of video calling like Skype, What’s App, and Go To Meeting that should cause pause. They have made it possible, and even probable, to meet more frequently with people across the world than with people across the street.
Such a ‘problem’ becomes all the more common as the world shrinks and people move across the city, across the country, and across the continent in order to pursue their supreme means and goals. It is understandable that people want to leverage such technologies to their greatest benefit in order to maintain contact with close friends and family. As one who lives overseas apart from the most influential people in my life (i.e. parents, grandparents, siblings, and dear Christian friends) I understand this sentiment. I find myself ever grateful that I live in era where such communication is possible. However, with little oversight, technology not only transforms into a burden upon one’s life, but is given the ability to govern one’s life. In the context of video conferencing, it can result in dire consequences for the Christian life.
I do not want to be completely negative upon this because there are great benefits to what we now have at our fingertips and in that regard we should encourage their use. After all its use provides us with three important enhancements to life:
- Connects: The most obvious benefit is the ability to connect with people, known and unknown, who are separated by land and sea. Journeys that can take hours or days now take only seconds over a computer connection. For families and friends who would not otherwise see each other on a regular basis computers provided a middle ground between not seeing one another at all and visiting face to face on a regular basis. While we are able to get regular visits from our parents, once every year or two is not enough for us and definitely creates a gap for them to see their grandchildren grow up. So while it is not a substitute, it provides us with some opportunity to connect in ways we would otherwise not have.
- Creates: Not only does it allow for connecting people who know each other, but it creates opportunities for people who do not know each other. Through its use, technology can create ways for fellow believers to study Scripture, encourage, and even pray for one another. It also opens the door for teaching those who may not be able to access adequate and appropriate resources.
- Contributes: Finally, it contributes to the support and well-being. There are times when people end up in situations where they no relatively nobody. This is especially dire when it comes to sustainable spiritual health. With no support and accountability, it can be difficult to exist within the commanded will of God. Again, while it is not a good substitute, it acts as an aide in circumstances where it is necessary.
These benefits are not small by any means, and in fact, can play a significant role. Therefore, we should be careful not to throw out this good out of a concern for the role of technology.
Neither though, should there be a blanket approval of technology with little regulation. For many people, the use of technology has come to be replace relationships all together. It acts as a substitute both for genuine fellowship and genuine relationships. There are three reasons though why technology cannot be a replacement to building relationships face to face where we live:
- Lacks Opportunity: Technology is not able to build on the moment by moment opportunities that take place in relationship building. Those sporadic dinners that come together at the last minute or those unexpected meetings in a coffee shop or while shopping. Much happens in those moments in order to form relationships that cannot happen when technology is the substitute.
- Lacks Intimacy: This should be the most obvious of all areas in which technology is unable to fulfill a relational commitment. Technology does not provide a ‘complete’ look into a person or family’s life. Nor does its frequency offer opportunity to get into the heart of matters. Therefore, the intimacy that is required for genuine relationships to exist, especially in the context of the body of Christ, does not meet the minimum requirement for people to get to know each other at a more than superficial level.
- Lacks Wholeness: Finally, technology lacks the wholeness of a face-to-face relationship. By the very fact that technology lacks opportunity and intimacy, two vital parts of fellowship, wholeness can therefore not be accomplished. Relationships take time, take work, and take investment, something that is hindered when we are relying on them as the only means for communication with others.
I recognize that in these qualities that I am mentioning, technology can help improve some of those areas. For example, if I have met a young believer who is struggling, I can send a quick text of encouragement with a verse during times in which they may not be able to chat. I am not denying those benefits, but instead am focusing on the fact that technology for many has become the basis for relationships and we use it more often to meet with those across the sea and thus avoid meeting with those across the street.
Why is this important? This is important because in terms of Christianity, it can impact or testimony and effectiveness for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- It Impacts our Witness for the Gospel: This happens in two ways. First, by not knowing people we never share with people. Furthermore, we may be viewed as anti-social and even arrogant. As a result it can not only suppress future conversations with those around us, but those who may know us as Christians may get a false view and thus disregard Christianity as arrogant.
- It Impacts our Discipleship for the Gospel: Again there is a two-fold aspect to consider here. First is those who we may be meeting with online. While technology acts as an aide, it may fall short in discipleship because it falls short in the intimacy, a key point for encouragement and accountability. Secondly though, it also means we are neglecting making disciples of those around us who also have a legitimate need for the gospel.
- It Impacts our Growth in the Gospel: Finally, our own personal growth in the gospel can be hindered. Meeting with others forces us to live out the gospel and to actively think about who we are in relationship to the testimony we are maintaining for Christ.
The results here are not insignificant, but should weigh heavily upon us as part of our joyful burden we carry for Jesus Christ. If we are not careful, technology can diminish the influence of the gospel because there is no legitimate substitute for personal relationships.
Scripture draws our attention to personal interaction and thus the issue must be an important one. The author of Hebrews urges readers to not forsake meeting together. Certainly some will argue that this type of technology didn’t exist then so that is not a fair assessment. I can say without a doubt though, “It is a fair assessment.” The apostle Paul was not shy about using his letters to confront, command, and comfort his readers. However, he often states that he would prefer to see them face to face, or that he hoped to visit them soon. Certainly Paul also understood the importance of relationships built upon personal interaction.
Therefore, what we are discussing here is not merely a psychological study, but is a biblical sanction. In no way am I condemning the use of technology. Instead, I am simply saying that it is a supplement and therefore we should be cautious and considerate in our use of it.