new life fellowship

serving jesus christ the king

Do we shape technology or does it shape us?

Mobile-phones, texting, iPads, the internet, Facebook, blogs—we live in a communication rich age which brings many benefits. But as I said last week, quoting from one writer, “Technology wears its benefits on its sleeve—while the drawbacks are buried deep within”. So is all this so-called enhanced communication good for us?

Studies show that technology shapes us more than we realise. It has always been this way. Take a shovel for instance—useful for moving dirt, but in using it everyday we develop stronger arms and calloused hands. The tool helps us change the world around us, but it also changes us in the process. And this happens regardless of why you are digging the hole. In the same way, digital technologies change us, whatever we use them for.

One of the areas of change is in our attention spans. Many of us now live in a state of what is known as Continuous Partial Attention. Part of our mind is always tuned in to incoming communications—email, text messages, status updates, tweets, mobile calls—and not given to the task in hand. And often when that communication isn’t there we even feel deprived—how many times do you check your email, or phone even when there has been no incoming beep?

Our attention spans and our memory are being altered because our brains are being rewired. The neurons in our brains are constantly reconnecting and creating new pathways, adapting the brain to the way we think. Since the internet and various associated technologies encourage rapid, shallow thoughts that skim along the surface, the more we surf, text and Facebook, the more difficult it is for our brains to slow down and think deeply about important issues. We flit, we skim, we are easily distracted.

This is giving us something akin to ADHD according to Dr Edward Hollowell, of Harvard Medical School, an expert on ADHD. He terms it Attention Deficit Trait, and it has stark similarities to ADHD, with one exception—we impose it on ourselves with our infatuation with the digital world.

How long has it been since you’ve read an entire book? Why don’t you sit down and read one now? It’s harder than it used to be, isn’t it? We are becoming skimmers rather than readers.

This is concerning at different levels, but especially at the spiritual level. We are more than processors of information and consumers of sound bites. But how can we ponder and consider the deep issues of life such as guilt, forgiveness, life after death—truths about God’s world and God’s ways—if we have trained ourselves to think shallow thoughts?

Let me challenge you to deepen your thinking by taking time away from the digital world, and sitting down and reading slowly each of the four biographies of the life of Christ—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And maybe even note down some of the things you learn, for writing slows us down and helps us focus.