Josh Hall is senior pastor at Fair Oaks Presbyterian Church in Fair Oaks, California. He joined Fair Oaks in 2016 as assistant pastor for teaching and family ministries after serving as a campus pastor in San Jose for Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Hall received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of California – Berkeley and a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Western Seminary, and he has completed his M.Div. requirements at Bethel Seminary.
People have struggled with a little known, but widely felt phobia for at least 150 years now. The fear is of the latest technology.
Consider this terrifying description of the introduction of “electric elevators” in the late 1800s on the Engineering and Technology History Wiki website:
The electrical elevator led to the birth of the skyscraper, but acceptance of the electrified elevator option did not occur overnight. Electricity was a new technology and a source of both fear and wonderment. Electricity was an unseen force that moved along slender wires. It could magically light a room or a street — but it could also kill. Fear of electrical energy was bad enough, but anxieties were ratcheted up considerably more when coupled with the thought of being suspended in an elevator 20 or more stories above the ground.
The fear of new technology and how it may affect us has been around at least as long as humans have invented, mass produced and marketed new products to the public. Always paired with promises to make our lives easier, more efficient and save us time. This fear has a name that was first used in 1947: technophobia. It means a fear or dislike of advanced technology or complex devices, especially computers, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
I’ve lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. This is where most tech is developed. Recently a woman controlling a small robot with her phone carrying her groceries down the street startled me. I have watched driverless cars pass each other going opposite directions in left hand turn lanes. Saudi Arabia has granted citizenship to an Artificial Intelligence robot named Sophia. Private Trips to Mars are not far off!
When will it stop? The answer: It won’t. Technology doesn’t move backwards. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay, and it is moving forward at increasing speed toward infinity. For those who hate it, the technological push forward and its perceived effects on us represent a digital Tower of Babel whereby man strives to ever increasing heights. Only this tower is built on the mysterious interwebs somewhere, and its bricks are actually older model iPhones.
It seems the choice for us today is either becoming raging technophobes railing against the nefarious uses of technology, or enthusiastic tech-evangelists who extol the virtues and possibilities of all things shiny and electronic!
Those who fall into the camp of tech-evangelists (i.e., “tech-addicts”) cannot resist the allure of the latest technology. These folks are “those people” who spend the night outside malls waiting to get their hands on the latest device. They eagerly sacrifice their time and hard earned money for the newest “thing” swearing they could quit any time! (If the mere thought of being away from your phone for more than two hours causes your eye to twitch, Yes, I am speaking to you.)
How are pastors to respond? Should we preach and model a tech-free lifestyle and rail against technology in an effort to save our people from themselves? Or should we praise the latest and greatest tech and implore people toward all the good that it can do in the world? Surely these are not the only options we have.
What if there is a third way: a way between technophobia and tech-addiction? Is there a healthy way to engage with technology that is not crushing to the soul? I believe there is.
The reality is that technology is generally amoral. Most devices do not have a moral will bent upon evil and our destruction. Most things can be used for good or evil. Usually it all comes down to how you use it — including when, where, how frequently, and the duration as well.
Here are three things that have greatly shaped how I use, think about, interact and even preach about technology. I hope you will find them helpful:
1. Set Technology Limits. We are tempted to think if a little is awesome, then a lot must be uber-awesome! But as mom always said, “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.” Our family practices screen-free time at dinner and all screens off between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. every night. This prevents many wasted hours of trolling the Internet and social media or responding to email constantly.
2. Focus on doing only one thing at a time. In our hurried scattered lives, the ability to remain present to people and in the present moment is a great gift. Technology always tempts us to focus on more than one thing at once, which only serves to distract us or irritate the people around us. This is easier said than done, but it looks like this: Drive (don’t text and drive); Talk attentively to a coworker or loved one (don’t talk and check emails or troll social media while mindlessly repeating “uh-huh”); etc.
3. Fast from technology. Plan regular times in your calendar during your day, week, month and even year when you intentionally are unreachable, unconnected, without screens, off social media, and off the grid (preferably some place quiet and outdoors). Grow in your ability to spend longer periods of time without tech. Realize the distracting effects technology has on your relationships with other people, your own soul, and even with God.
As pastors we never want ourselves, or those we love and lead, to live in fear and detachment, but we don’t want to be mastered by anything either. There is a way with technology, like everything else, for us to learn how to live freely with God’s help in the tension as Jesus prayed for us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.