Every semester, the students in my Management Information Systems class take a detour from learning about how technology affects business and spend some time contemplating how technology affects them personally. This takes the form of an assignment: First, I ask the students to read Shane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels, an excellent book about the role technology plays in our lives. I then ask for a short paper in which they reflect upon the role that technology plays in their relationships with their friends, family and God. The ultimate question they are asked to consider is this: “How closely does your use of technology reflect the person you want to be?” In reviewing the responses, I find that many students have never really taken the time to consider that their use of technology is having an impact on their relationships. To them, technology just “is.” But this should not be. As Christians, we must be vigilant in how we spend our time and the technologies with which we engage.
In Flickering Pixels, Shane Hipps centers his thoughts around Marshall McLuhan’s statement: “the medium is the message.” While this simple phrase has engendered countless debates, it can be boiled down to this: The method by which you send a message has just as much impact (or more) than the content of the message itself.
While you may or may not agree with this upon first consideration, let me give you the example that I give the students in my class, which usually gets the point across:
Ladies, suppose you had been dating the man of your dreams for a couple of years now and the two of you are moving toward a marriage commitment. You probably wonder about just how he is going to ask you: Will it be at the beach? Will it be at your favorite restaurant? Just then, your phone vibrates and you check your text messages. “I luv u. Will u mrry me?”
How does that make you feel? What message does it send? A text message, regardless of its content, conveys the idea of something quick, a throwaway thought, or some simple information. Of course, this example is probably a little extreme. But the point is made: The medium used also conveys a message.
I love technology and always want to find new ways to integrate it into my life. But I have also learned that it can be an obstacle to becoming who God wants me to be. There are appropriate times to use technology; there are times when we must separate ourselves from it. You cannot build a relationship 140 characters at a time.
One of the most profound impacts someone made on me was when he showed up at my father’s funeral. This person had found out about my father’s passing and took it upon himself to find out when the funeral would take place and then took time off work to show up and pay his respects. He did not even know my father; he just knew me. I will never forget that act of kindness. When you look back at your life, you will not remember the text messages and Facebook posts — you will remember specific times spent together with friends and family. Sometimes, the best way to love our neighbor is to be physically present with them.
And what about our relationship to God? Many of my students tell me, “Yes! I am so much closer to God now because I can use my online Bible to read several translations and I can Google online commentaries to answer all my questions!” Others write how they are inspired because they can have a “verse of the day” delivered to their email or Facebook. These are helpful, but I worry that these students are becoming lazy and not learning how to do real Bible study. Again: It is about spending time in the noble pursuit of growing in our faith that will make the differences in our lives. While technology can be helpful, disciplined study and prayer are what we are called to do. In my case, I have stopped taking my iPad to church because I found it too distracting! There is something about holding the Bible from my childhood in my hands every Sunday, seeing the verses I have underlined, the notes I have written, the inscription from my parents,dated 1979.
Throughout time, God has communicated with people through a variety of different methods: a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a donkey, prophets. He provided the most perfect medium in his son, Jesus Christ. And now, while we await Christ’s return, we, the church, are his medium. How will the message we send through our lives communicate God’s love to the world? Let’s start by using technology in a God-pleasing way.
David Bourgeois (’87) is an associate professor of information systems and the director of innovation for Biola’s Crowell School of Business. He holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveBourgeois.