Asking Your Technology Honest Questions
Email. Facebook. Twitter. Google. Laptop. Texting. Blackberry. iPod. Wii. Xbox.
How many of these do you use? An even better question is how many of these have you asked why and how you’re going to use it? There’s a lot to learn about bit literacy, which is learning how to be productive in the age of information and email overload. There’s also a lot to learn about technology awareness, which is reflecting on how and why you use particular devices, social media networks, search engines, etc. The tons of buzz about how technology is growing so fast in our world must be accompanied by questions like “How should we use this particular technology?” or “Why should I use this particular technology?” because an adopt-all-technologies mentality combined with an un-reflective consumption of all things technological changes us and shapes us, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
My First Cell Phone
I got a cell phone five years ago–my senior year in college–a huge contrast to the 7-year olds we see walking around with iPhones nowadays. Anyway, in my pre-cell phone life, text messages, voicemails, and apps never even crossed my mind. If people wanted to leave me a message, they called me on my landline and left a message on my answering machine. After I got a cell phone, I went wild adding contacts and texting like a junior high girl.
Then, I noticed something that made me stop and think: my journaling changed.
Here’s what I mean. Before I got a cell phone my journal entries were long descriptions of my inner world and the minute details of my life in a lined journal. Over time, in my post-cell phone life I began to notice that (1) I felt like I didn’t have time to journal anymore, (2) My journal entries looked like text messages on a page, and (3) I wanted to get rid of lines. The question that plagued me was why? Was there a correlation?
Plagued with curiosity, I picked up a book called Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, where Shane Hipps points out ideas I’d never heard before–for example, “our thinking patterns mirror the things we use to think with” (did texting all the time change the way I journaled?) and “the medium is the message” which is a counter argument to saying “technology is neutral and all that is important is what message you share through the medium.” Whether you or I believe these ideas or not, they promote asking your technology honest questions which leads to technology awareness (boring term, I know, I’m trying to come up with something more clever), which in turn leads to a healthy relationship with technology in your life.
Your life and my life are full of computers, emails, game systems, televisions, and we need to relate to them in a healthy way – which starts with some good old-fashioned question asking.
When to Ask Your Technology Honest Questions
There are two really good times to ask technology honest questions:
1. When you’re starting to use a new technology.
When you signed up for Facebook, whether you thought about it or not, you decided to commit your time, energy, and attention to Facebook. The same is true for a Twitter account. The same is true for a blog. The same is true for text messaging. Each new technology you add to your life takes up some of your time, energy, and attention that could be put towards other things.
So, before joining a social network, signing up for a newsletter, or buying an Xbox ask honest questions like:
- How will this affect my relationship with God?
- How will this affect my relationship with people?
- What tangible benefits will I receive from using this?
- What kind of time, energy, and attention commitment does this require of me?
- How will this affect my daily life?
I admit these sound kind of stupid–it’s like asking “How will a Wii affect my relationship with my family?” Who does that? I just want a Wii so I can play Super Smash Brothers. Stupid sounding or not, you don’t want to be that guy plays his Wii more than he talks to his wife and kids. And these questions will help you to not be that guy.
You may discover that the technology you’re considering will help you save time so you can spend more time with your family, which is an amazing thing. I’m not advocating a boycott on all technology, I’m advocating an awareness of technology.
2. When you’re reflecting on how technology has affected you.
There are ways-technology-has-affected-you-positively type questions and ways-technology-has-affected-you-negatively type questions.
- What tangible benefits have I seen from using an (iPhone, Twitter, Facebook, whatever)?
- How has technology grown my relationships with people?
- How has technology grown my relationship with God?
- Has getting used to fast (Internet, answers from Google or Wikipedia, results on my phone) made me impatient away from the computer?
- After putting my phone on silent, can I sit through a movie without (1) worrying if someone texted me and (2) checking to see if someone texted me?
- Is (reading a text message, checking my email, checking Twitter) more appealing than listening to the person in front of me?
The follow up question to all of these questions is the revealing, deep, challenging, sometimes most plaguing question of all: Why?
Asking your technology honest questions is essential because most of us aren’t going to be boycotting our cell phones, TVs, or laptops anytime soon. The questions in and of themselves are not our end goal. Our end goal is a healthy, thoughtful relationship with technology that honors our relationship with God and our relationships with other people.
So, what questions are you going to ask your technology today?
(image from Flickr user Lazurite)