By: Bob Thune (Pastor of Coram Deo Church in Omaha)
Let’s talk about an idol no one really wants to talk about: technology.
A front page story in the November 28 issue of the Omaha World-Herald reported that a number of area high schools are “embracing technology as a learning tool” by allowing students to bring cell phones to class and using them to “look up facts” or “text answers to quizzes.” As might be expected, the article hailed such innovations as a step forward: “After all, [cell phones] are already out there… the change just makes sense. It’s a major part of our society now.”
GK Chesterton famously wrote: “As enunciated today, ‘progress’ is simply a comparative of which we have not settled the superlative… progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress.” If the encroachment of technology into every aspect of our lives is being hailed as progress, perhaps we should ask the question: progress toward what?
Rather than being hailed as a positive development, this shift in our schools should be lamented. It is further evidence of our culture’s capitulation to technology idolatry. Parents and teachers should be seeking to cultivate self-control in teenagers through denial of certain “privileges” (i.e. texting in class). Instead, they are stumbling over one another to worship at the Golden Calf of Progress. After all, technology is cool, and the more technology our school has, the more innovative we are, right? “It’s pretty sweet, and the kids get a kick out of it,” observed one teacher quoted in the article. (Which I thought was a sweet quote. I got a kick out of it.)
The primary issue here is not one of “cell phones and texting in class are good” vs. “cell phones and texting in class are bad” (though I anticipate at least a few commenters will be unable to resist that debate). Rather, the fundamental issue is self-control. Is self-control a virtue? Should we cultivate the discipline of saying “no?” Is it character-building to deny certain privileges for the sake of a greater good? The Bible would answer yes to all these questions. Our culture would answer no. But can a culture without self-control last? History says no.
Numerous research studies are showing that technology affects our ability to concentrate, to engage with others socially, and even to sleep well. The Bible states it even more simply: idolatry has consequences. If we want to form a generation of people who are distracted, shallow, and unable to endure sustained periods of concentration – say, for instance, the kind of concentration it would take to learn theology, solve complex problems, or engage in meaningful dialogue for the good of humanity – then we are headed in exactly the right direction. If, on the other hand, we want a different outcome, it just may be wise to stop worshiping the idol of technology and start cultivating the biblical virtue of self-control (Col 4:2, 1 Peter 5:8).
Of course, the presence of cell phones (in class or elsewhere) is ultimately immaterial; self-control is an internal discipline that can be applied regardless of the external circumstances. But for adolescents (who often haven’t developed self-control), in a culture of consumption (which often doesn’t laud self-control), building virtue requires external means. Like not being allowed to use cell phones at school. (Stone-age, isn’t it?)
This post was found on the Coram Deo Blog back in November. Due to a crash on the server that hosted their blog, a link to this post is no longer available. To check out more posts on the Coram Deo blog, visit them at www.cdomaha.com/blog.