Monday, 4 July 2016

Modern Technology--Friend or Foe?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as gadgets galore seem to progressively dominate people’s minds and lives and the internet has taken the place of traditional shopping. So, is this necessarily a bad thing and how should Christians respond to the dramatic changes that are taking and have taken place in recent decades? Is technology itself evil or can it be used for good? Should we as Christians go with the cultural flow or should we take a stand against this seemingly unstoppable advance? Is this even an issue that needs to be discussed from a Christian perspective or should we take a neutral position as it is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible? 

I have always had something of an aversion to modern technology, maybe partly this is an inherited view ingrained in me from a young age. It is not the typical attitude of someone of my generation as I have grown up in the computer literate age, surrounded by gadgets. But, when my school friends were sporting the latest mobile phones, I was faithfully carrying a Nokia brick and laughing when Dom Joly produced an even larger one on Trigger Happy TV and yelled into it in public places startling and embarrassing everyone around him. This leads me to the first point; as Christians we are accountable to God for our use of money. Our money is not really ours to spend as we like, it is God’s and should be primarily used in ways that advance His Kingdom. Does God care about the latest fads/fashions/status symbols? Probably not. Should we, as Christians, try to keep up with the latest gadget models and trends, regardless the cost? Probably not. Is living simply a good way to show our friends and neighbours that we have different priorities? It could be. 

Within the last week I finished a book called “Zapped.” It basically states that an average household has gone from having around 15 electronic devices in their homes a few decades ago, to a staggering 150 now. The book talks about Electro-magnetic fields and explains how these can affect our health especially over the long term. We all know that using mobile phones for lengthy periods carries a risk of cancer but the book details many of the other risks that are out there. When I was in the police, a few years back, Airwave radios were introduced and many officers were initially worried about the risk to their health, but as we were forced to use them day in and day out and other options had been taken off the market, there wasn’t really anything that could be done, so the protests died a death in the end. But I continue to wonder about these devices and others. There are documented cases of people becoming ill after living near mobile phone masts and other such key equipment. But with all of these things it is still early days and none of us really knows the actual impact on our long term health. There are consequences to all of it. Should we be paranoid and go rushing off to buy all of the things suggested in “Zapped?” Probably not. Is there a case for knowing about these things and minimising the risk to our health where possible? I think there is.

Another area that should concern a Christian is that of state control or our countries gradually being turned into “Nanny states.” The government decides that the people are either incapable of or not wanting to make their own decisions about things so they take control. They do this by preventing free speech and by interfering in the private and family lives of individuals. This leads to attempting to control people’s viewpoints and various government departments examining how individuals may or may not act according to what they believe or think; “The Thought Police.” I experienced a measure of this whilst working for Sussex Police due to my Christian views about homosexuality (Planet Police.) I also read a series of Novellas that describes what may happen in America if technology continues to advance at its current rate ( (Backland.) Modern technology allows governments to monitor and control its citizens as never before. I have heard about people being refused jobs and even sacked for things they posted on their Facebook pages and about one Christian student who was kicked off his Social Work course at University for expressing Biblical views about gay marriage on social media. Should we refuse to use the internet fearing what may happen to us? Probably not as God is ultimately in control. Should we consider online security issues and resist attempts by the government to control our thoughts? Definitely.

A fourth area for consideration is that of our time. How much time is now taken up with these gadgets and with using the internet? Is it addictive? Can we stop ourselves checking our social media pages ten times each day? Are we able to get away from our gadgets to spend proper quality time alone with God and with real people? Are we hearing what God is saying or is He drowned out by the buzz of technology? Are we losing the ability to interact with others in person due to being glued to our phones/Facebook pages?  As Christians, our time (like our money) is not our own and we are accountable to God for how we use it. Should we throw all our gadgets out and ban computers? Probably not. Should we place reasonable limits on our time and activities online and on the credit we spend on phones? Yes. Should we ensure we have face to face contact where possible. I think so, gadgets are not a substitute for actual face to face meetings and a lot of our online contact is superficial.

Fifthly, I find it is a lot easier to say things online or via a gadget that perhaps I wouldn’t say in person in a face to face conversation, especially negative things. This can be dangerous. It sometimes feels as if we are sending the information out there into the world somewhere and that it doesn’t matter what we do and say as it’s a virtual environment. But this is not true. Christians are accountable to God for what they do, say and think, including things that have been hastily typed online or via a text message or email. God knows who has written it even if others don’t. We need to ensure that we are only saying things that we would be willing to say in real conversation and that we are representing Jesus at all times. You probably wouldn’t have a face to face conversation whilst upset and angry, but the internet/gadgets allow you to say what you want whenever you want which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sometimes it’s helpful to wait a while before posting or sending something especially if we are upset or angry or to ask someone else what they think.

So, I have extensively covered the negative aspects in terms of use of money, health, Government control, use of time, superficiality of relationships. But, is there a positive aspect to modern technology and how can we as Christians utilise it? I say yes there definitely is and it’s all about perspective. How do we view our contact with others via our gadgets and on the internet? Are we using them for Kingdom purposes? How can we best do this?

I think we need firstly to remember that at the other end of every text, email, message or viewing our social media posts is a real person. That person has a soul and needs to hear the Gospel. Modern technology allows us to evangelise as never before; we can reach others quickly and en masse. We can encourage each other with Bible verses and share our Christian viewpoints via social media. We can rate, review and recommend Christian books and share our testimonies easily and with hundreds of people. We can keep in regular contact with people we care about and show Christian love to those in need through a text or email if we cannot be there in person straight away.

As with everything the key is for us to use modern technology in the right way. For us to use it as an opportunity to evangelise and connect with others on spiritual issues, not to whittle away the time or get into heated debates about unimportant issues. We don’t know how God will use these contacts that we are developing and a timely post or message could be used mightily for God. We should be praying about our use of social media and gadgets, that it would all be for God’s glory and with His Kingdom in mind. Can people even tell we are Christians from looking at our profiles? Are we ashamed of our beliefs when we are online and are we being our true selves?

For anyone who is challenged by this and who wants to start using their gadgets/internet time in a more purposeful way. I have recently started volunteering for an organisation called Groundwire UK (there is also a US office.) We answer questions about Christianity from people all around the world via online chat and sometimes via email. I have had discussions with Muslims in Iran and Somalia, people struggling financially in America and the Philippines, people wanting to end their lives in Malaysia and Hong Kong, people working as prostitutes and desperate for a change in Britain, and people asking questions about the Trinity and various cults in Australia. These are just some of the types of conversation that I have encountered so far.

The aim is to bring each person one step closer to Jesus, we try to encourage people to pray to God (and offer to pray for them,) read their Bible, go to church and/or talk to a church leader. I have been encouraged by the responses of those I have chatted to, most of whom just wanted someone to talk through their problem with them. They are mostly very grateful. Some cry and others are relieved as they feel the weight lifted as they share their problem with someone else. Many are surprised that they are not talking to a robot as that is how many websites now operate. If you can spare a few hours a week I would encourage you to sign up, you don’t need special skills and training is given. This is especially good for those who are afraid of face to face evangelism or giving out tracts in the street as it is all anonymous, and you don’t need to worry about getting tongue tied.

If you want to know more about Groundwire click here, or please feel free to contact me and I will help you get connected….

So is modern technology a friend or foe? The simple answer is that it depends on how you use it!

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