There are currently 2.32 billion smartphone users in the world. That number is expected to climb to over 3 billion by 2022.
The implications for life and ministry are staggering. But one of the implications that doesn’t get talked about enough is the impact that technology has on the health of your soul.
In most discussions about technology, the focus is on the content; the information and sounds and words and images that the technology delivers. The medium itself tends to fade into the backdrop and center stage goes to the sizzle of everything this new, whizbang gadget can DO.
But Marshall McLuhan warns us not to minimize the impact of the technology itself. He said “the medium is the message.” What’s amazing about that statement is that McLuhan wrote it in 1964. He went on to say “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication.” This kind of prophetic statement made a half-century ago is now being validated by neuroscience.
Neuroscience has been a great help in understanding how technology is impacting your brain. Research over the last 20 years has definitively shown that our brains are literally being reprogrammed by technology.
Neuroscience has also helped us understand that the “brain” is far more amazing then we ever thought. This reality is behind a new term coined by neuroscientists called neuroplasticity. That means the brain is far more adaptable than we originally thought.
The wonder of the brain isn’t so much that it contains a lot of hard-wiring like a computer. The brain has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering how it processes and functions.
Thanks to the adaptability of neurons, when people go blind the brain can compensate by sharpening the sense of hearing and touch.
But it can also be a curse in the sense that our brain can also reprogram itself in some ways that are not so helpful. Many of us now have brains that are literally programmed to expect constant stimulation from technology.
So, we have all been deeply impacted by the advent of technology and our brains are being changed by technology. But what does this have to do with my spiritual life and soul? I’m so glad you asked.
The Constant Use of Technology is a Danger to our soul because…
1. It violates the biblical principle of space and rhythm
We all know our world is speeding up and there is greater and greater demand on every second of your day.
And we don’t know how to slow it down and turn off the noise.
Everywhere I go, I meet pastors who are fatigued and frazzled. It doesn’t matter the size of the city or what church they pastor.
You can’t live life at warp speed without warping your soul. Slow and space and silence are friends to your spiritual health. So, being plugged into our techno-gadgets all the time takes away from our ability to be with God and to hear God.
2. It dramatically impacts our ability to pay attention…
We are losing the ability to be quiet and alone with just our thoughts. We have an attraction to distraction
“In the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration.” -The Shallows
Let me remind you today that you have a soul. You have an interior life, the “being” part of your life. And if you are going to be a healthy pastor, you need to learn how to pay attention to your soul.
The tsunami of noise and information coming at us makes it hard to concentrate on anything very long. Neuroscientists tell us that we don’t read deeply and thoughtfully anymore. We just scan and decode information. That has huge implications for our ability to deeply read and meditate on Scripture.
I travel a lot and so I regularly take a shuttle from the parking garage to the airport terminal. It is about a 10 minute ride. One day I noticed that every single person on the shuttle had their smartphones out. There was no conversation on the shuttle for the entire 10 minutes. Everyone had their head buried in their smartphone. So I decided that I was going to try and put my phone away each time I rode the shuttle. I would try to just sit in silence, and pray, and enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Several times during that 10 minute ride I would find myself reflexively reaching for my phone, because that’s what I do all day long anytime I have a few free seconds. My constantly being plugged in has conditioned my brain to constantly desire the stimulation of technology.
This issue has enormous implications for my ability to be with God, enjoy God, and know God.
The 8 words of Psalm 46:10 might be the biggest indictment for those of us in ministry.
Be still and know that I am God.
No wonder we have trouble with prayer, solitude, silence, and meditation.
I must confess to you that I have a restless soul. It has always been a challenge for me to “be still”. All my life I have been driven to be active and productive. And my constant engagement with technology has only amplified that problem.
So, over the last couple of years I have been working to learn the discipline of silence. I started by just trying to have 3 minutes of silence early in the morning. I actually use an app on my smartphone as the timer. Ironic, isn’t it? Even sitting for 3 minutes silence has been really challenging. But I love the results it is having in my life. I am learning how to just “be” with God in the quiet.
Next week, in the final article on this topic, I will share some practical strategies for helping you manage technology in your life and ministry.
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