No corner of our lives has gone untouched by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has changed the way we live, work and interact with each other. It has also changed the ways we use technology. We've streamed more entertainment, conducted more online meetings and lessons, ordered more stuff online, used food-delivery apps more often and absorbed more news and information from digital sources than ever before.
Our screen time has skyrocketed. Our reliance on technology companies, under increasing scrutiny over the last few years, is back with a vengeance. The pandemic has given many tech companies a golden opportunity to solve our daily "pain points" and get us hooked on their products and services.
But although the digital world has brought us virtually closer to each other and given us unparalleled access to data, many of us remain isolated. Even before lockdowns to combat the virus, loneliness was reaching epidemic levels. Suicide in the U.S. has risen by more than 30% in the last two decades. During the pandemic, higher suicide rates and spikes in calls to suicide hotlines have been reported, and the long-term effects of the health crisis on mental health will take years to fully realize.
We're basking in the glow of our technology and, in many cases, unhappier than ever before. As Christians, we want to be a witness for Christ and use the gifts God has given us to live purposeful lives and build his kingdom. But when our use of technology becomes automatic and unthinking, our health and well-being — as well as our ability to be his hands and feet — are at risk.
Before we can properly evaluate our tech, the first step is gauging our relationship with God. As James 4:8 reminds us, as we draw near to God by purifying our hearts of sin, he will draw near to us. In order to know how to use our tech wisely for his purposes, we must know his will for our lives. In order to do that, we need to be in communion with him.
If you're not sure about God's plan for your life yet, take some time to work on this step first. Build fellowship with him through daily prayer and Bible study. Serve and interact with a local body of believers. Be zealous for God. As you work on this step, your relationship with the tech in your life may start to come into sharper focus. Most importantly, you'll orient yourself with the will of God and you'll be ready to more effectively evaluate the technology you use.
Next, take stock of the tech you already have in your life. Even though technology technically includes everything from pencils to jumbo jets, the focus here is on personal electronic tech — the gadgets, screens and services we incorporate into our daily lives. It's time to think critically about these items.
Here are just a few questions to ask yourself about each tech tool you have. Is using this tool a wise use of my time? Does it encourage me to think for myself? Does it enable me to use my God-given abilities and spiritual gifts? Does it help me accomplish what God wants me to do? Does using this tech compromise my witness to others by causing me to stumble or get distracted? Does it dull my intellect? Is it making me lazy or entitled?
The problem is boundaries. Knowing where to draw the line between things you think through yourself and thinking you delegate to a computer can be difficult, and the more we utilize the service, the more we depend on it.
It's also problematic to trust Big Tech with your personal information quests. They do not have your best interests at heart and have been known to misuse your privacy and personal data for financial gain. Doing God's work in your life requires diligence, persistence and discernment, qualities that could be negatively affected by excessive use of a digital assistant.
After evaluating your current tech, you'll be ready to apply that same critical thinking to technology you come across in the future. Tomorrow's tech will continue to blur the line between human and machine.
It will take a trained mind to carefully think through your tech options and decide what to use and what to skip. Train yourself to look past the flashy advertising. Resist the fear of missing out. By all means use tech to help you accomplish your goals, but set boundaries between you and your tech and stay in charge.
Andrew McDiarmid is a media specialist at the Discovery Institute. He is author of the blog "Authentic: Thinking and Thriving in the Digital Age."
From BreakPoint, July 17, 2020; reprinted by permission of the Colson Center; read the full version at www.breakpoint.org.