As I may have mentioned before, I don’t LOVE new technology. I use it, and I’m determined to get better at that – I mean, use it without losing my soul. Or to put it even more strongly, to use it without losing Jesus.
This doesn’t make me a Luddite. The Luddites were textile artisans in the 19th Century who protested against new technology in the mills, and went so far as to take axes to the looms, destroying them in favour of the old ways of doing things. I’m not taking an axe to social media, or digital-anything. I’m just saying it’s inevitably changing things, and not all of that change is good.
We know this instinctively. From walking, horse riding, to bicycling (invented c 1885), buggy driving, to wagons and then by 1886 the first motorised vehicle, transportation has changed, and so have national obesity levels. The notion that new technology will enable us to do more with the same effort is only partly true. (And pretty awesome: check out this video on a Chevy assembly line). But more generally, some scientist forgot to include the human laziness factor, and overlooked the possibility that we might work less hard if we could get away with it. (What’s next? Wall-E style hover chairs?)
Unemployment caused by technological ‘efficiency’ cut even the willing workers out of the mix, and at a grand social scale the swift development of growth in one direction caused atrophy in another. Society’s brain and mechanised processes whir all night in wakeful dreams while the untaxed limbs of human strength toss and turn restlessly. As a friend said to me recently, ‘I used to work on a farm. Best job I ever had, and I’ve done just about everything.’
There is a great satisfaction in going home feeling like you’ve done a good day’s work. Well worked muscles hum, and endorphins flow around the body. Yet while pointing out the loss of physical exertion that new tech introduces, let me not swing romantically to the other pole. We know that there are far too many people locked into working above and beyond all the hours God sends, whether as single parents or families trying to keep up mortgage payments which have outrun them.
What am I saying here? That digital has made us all physically lazy and here’s the latest diet plan? Not entirely. Ironically this post entitled ‘tech-induced atrophy’ is at first pointing out glut, not atrophy. But piling pounds on is not always a sign of health and wealth (though some cultures do value obesity as a sign of affluence). What aren’t seen so clearly are the muscles below the surface which are weakening.
We say, ‘Yes, yes, we are more connected through social media. I have more friends, there is more relating going on, what a wonderful technology!’ Let’s not point to the ‘relational weight-gain’ without doing a more thorough test of real relational muscle. You posted something I didn’t like? De-friend. You hold different views to me that I don’t want to read or understand? Unfollow. They like me? I’ll join the group. I don’t like them? I’ll leave it. With a click of the button, the hard work is avoided – the hard work of engaging, understanding, debating, forgiving, and collaborating across different agendas and values. The relational muscles weaken, slowly and imperceptibly.
It’s overflowing in our streets, jobs and marriage statistics. If the average job-change occurs now every six years, then every new opportunity allows us to leave either geography or colleagues behind and ‘start over’. If we wanted to, that could mean leaving the hard conversations and disputes unresolved, and taking unforgiveness and grievances forward with us. If we let digital habits of ‘do as I please’ colour our IRL lives, we ‘unfollow’ our current employer or spouse when we feel we’re lacking personal advancement, and move forward seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he wasn’t expecting it to be a 6 year tenure. They hit their bumps in the road, for sure. He gave them the option to leave and find a better option, but with one exception, they all stayed, along with their questions, fears and doubts. They couldn’t imagine life without him.
And that’s where I am, right now. I can’t imagine life without him… and if this world of digital is going to threaten my ability to relate to him and his people with resilience and perseverance, I’m going to be making tough choices about how I handle digital. I know where my loyalties lie.