Brave New Gadgetry: Technological Discernment and the Family

Article ID: JAV1321 | By: Robert Velarde

Brave New Gadgetry

This article first appeared in the Viewpoints column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 32, number 01 (2009). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


 The commercial cell phone didn’t exist until 1983. Neither did the World Wide Web, which began its ascent to cyber-dominance in 1993. The television has been around for decades, but in our digital age, video saturates society and is available on demand and on the go. Overstimulated by mass media, but undernourished in our intellects, we are in danger of entering Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World without even noticing it.1

Fascination with technology is obviously not limited to adults. The Center on Media and Child Health reports, “Roughly 60 percent of American teenagers own a cell phone,” while Yankee Group states, “54 percent of 8 to 12 year olds will have cell phones within the next three years.”2 Investors are pouring funds into virtual worlds aimed at youth,3 while eMarketer estimates twenty million teenagers will be visiting virtual worlds by 2011.4

Developing Technological Discernment

Christian apologists have traditionally focused on critiquing competing religions and philosophies, as well as offering evidence and reasoning in support of Christianity. But we also need to develop our technological discernment abilities. To engage contemporary challenges, we need a robust theology, as well as a rigorous philosophy, of technology.

Far from being irrelevant to the Christian worldview, technological discernment applies to daily life, especially when it comes to the family. We live in a world where nearly every teenager has grown up with exposure to the Internet, cell phones, and video games, as well as the ubiquitous presence of television. How parents model interaction with these and other forms of technology is important. Unfortunately, most adults do not give much thought to technology and its implications. As Douglas Groothuis explains, “When we become engrossed in the capacities of a powerful new technology, our critical faculties may be overwhelmed by the pragmatics of making the thing work and by the sheer delight of exploring new experiences.”5 We tend to disconnect or distance our intellectual faculties from technology, rather than applying discernment to it.

For instance, does an 8-year-old child need a cell phone? Do parents considering getting a cell phone for a young child even consider the potential negatives? In my experience around children (and adults) with cell phones, the devices breed incivility, entertainment-craving proclivities, and unhealthy Pavlovian conditioning. Adults can hardly handle balancing cell phone usage and civility, so why should young children have access to such technology?

Moreover, if technology is becoming an obstacle to a healthy family life, particularly in the area of face-to-face communication, something needs to be done to rectify matters. Often this means maintaining a balance in relation to our use of technology. Is television on during meal times? Turn it off. Do children or adults constantly use cell phones in the home? Are extended video game sessions a regular distraction? Wisely curtail the use.

Entertainment on demand is a reality of our culture. What does this do to sensibilities and souls? We don’t need an Orwellian oppressor to squelch our humanity, created in God’s image. Rather, unhindered diversion and lack of technological discernment combined with brave new gadgetry is enough to derail our lives, both individually and in reference to the family. Instead of reacting with indifference to technology and its use, or with extremism, we should go, “forth as sheep in the midst of wolves,” being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” {Matt. 10:16, KJV). Let’s think deeply about technology and its use or misuse and act—and parent—accordingly.

Robert Velarde

Robert Velarde is author of Conversations with C. S. Lewis (Intervarsity Press), The Heart of Narnia (NavPress), and Inside the Screwtape Letters (Baker Books). He studied philosophy of religion at Denver Seminary and is pursuing graduate studies in philosophy at Southern Evangelical Seminary.


 NOTES

  1. For an in-depth treatment of the assault of cyberspace on our sense of place, reality, identity, and community, and a plea for a return to essentialism (taking back the “real” space we need from the “virtual” space we don’t), see C. Wayne Mayhall’s article, “What Price Cyberspace?” in the Christian Research Journal 31, 6 (2009).
  2. Center on Media and Child Health, “Cell Phones,” http://www.cmch.tv/mentors/hotTopic.asp?id=70.
  3. Don Reisinger, “Quarterly Virtual-World Funding Tops $148 Million, “http://news.cnet.com/8301-17939_109-10067596-2.html.
  4. EMarketer, “Kids and Teens: Virtual Worlds Open New Universe,” http://www.emarketer.com/Report.aspx?code=emarketer_2000437.
  5. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 28.