I’m usually among the last people to embrace any sort of new technology. In the 80s, my husband had to practically pry my old Smith Corona typewriter out of my grasping hands in order to introduce me to—I admit now—the far better world of computer-based word processing. I had no need for email, I protested a few years later—what was wrong with good old fashioned letters? Cell phone? Who needs that? Do I really want to take calls in the restroom, like I’d heard other people doing? I didn’t sign up for a Facebook or Linked-In account until our publisher made it a requirement. And it’s only been in the last 60 days—honestly!—that I’ve tiptoed into the worlds of texting and Skype.
So, how is it that someone as reluctant about technology as I could become semi-addicted to it? I suppose it’s a professional necessity in this information-driven world of ours—but it still scares me a little.
Earlier this year I read Nicholas Carr’s sobering book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.
In it, while acknowledging the many positive benefits of technology, he also points out some extremely negative ones. Chiefly, that technology is changing the way our minds work. Citing numerous studies for his assertions, Carr says that technology causes our attention spans to become shorter. We are becoming less capable of deep reading and deep thinking. We don’t retain information as well as we used to. Creativity suffers, as does our problem-solving ability. Our emotional powers are also diminishing. Technology robs us of the ability to have a calm and attentive mind. And without that, our capacity for empathy and compassion are reduced. But even worse than all of this, Carr suggests that our technology habits are resulting in an actual physiological rewiring of our brains. If we continue in our technology habits, it may be very difficult for us to go back to our old ways of reading, thinking, processing, and remembering. We become more machine-like and less human.
What does this have to do with prayer? Carr’s book is not a “Christian” book. He does not discuss his faith. But he does lament our decreasing capacity for “meditative thought.”
"That doesn’t mean that promoting the rapid discovery and retrieval of information is bad. It’s not. The development of a well-rounded mind requires both an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and a capacity for open-ended reflection. There needs to be time for efficient data collection and time for inefficient contemplation, time to operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden. We need to work in Google’s “world of numbers,” but we also need to be able to retreat to Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we’re losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind. Mentally, we’re in perpetual locomotion." (p. 168)
Obviously, technology is not going to go away. Nor do I want it to. After all, I think that Pray Network (www.praynetwork.org
) is the best thing since sliced bread. It is also a wonderful thing to be able to pray with and for people around the world in “real time” via Skype, teleconferencing, emails, IM-ing and more. Never has the body of Christ had more potential for connection and mutual support—and we have technology to thank for this.
However, technology, like everything else, is a resource to be stewarded. We use it; it should not use us. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”
I want to use technology for God’s Kingdom—but I sure don’t want to be a slave to it! I don’t want it to rewire my brain so I can no longer think deeply, ponder, contemplate, focus, and dream God-given dreams.
So what to do? I’m still reflecting on this, but for starters, I’ve scheduled a personal prayer retreat next week during which I’ll unplug for 24 hours. (Or at least I’ll try!) For the last month of so I have been setting aside regular time on Sundays for extended conversation with God (And I’ll do this with my computer shut down. Believe it or not, I used to allow the familiar “You’ve got mail” bing on my computer interrupt prayer times. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but I did!) I’m disciplining myself not to give in to every urge to click on all those enticing links that flit across my computer screen. And I’m making myself take breaks from the computer to take a walk or spend time with a friend or read an old-fashioned paper-and-ink book. We’ll see how it goes—hopefully these small steps will help me to stay engaged with the world while maintaining spiritual and emotional depth—and healthy brain cells.
I’d love to hear from you: How does technology affect your prayer life? Share your experiences with me—both positive and negative—by writing to commenting on this blog..
(This blog originally appeared as an article in Pray! Online News
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