Serving or Being
How should we discern technological
Iconfess I am not on Facebook. Most of the people I know are – so much so that I sometimes feel the need to apolo- gize and explain. Am I out of touch – or worse, a Luddite?
I am not a Luddite, though I think we can learn from
this 18th century English movement that selectively destroyed machines they felt were harmful to the social good.
They were not anarchists. They asked whether each new
device served the human good by improving the human
condition, or whether the device would actually undermine our humanity, working conditions and community. Some Christian groups such as the Amish have taken
Many of us see a person who avoids the latest device or
medium as out of touch or “anti.” This defensive conclusion is actually a sign of an internal tension with technology that affects us all.
The prophet Isaiah described it in a way that is still
true in our age. We take materials around us and fashion
them into products and tools that benefit us. We also take
these same materials and fashion them into idols which
we worship – to which we become devoted.
I actually had a Facebook account once. I joined so I
could see what the 13,000 “social media friends” of the
EFC were seeing and saying. I started with one “friend”:
our IT guy, David.
But soon others discovered my participation in Facebook. When my second friend request came, rather than
explaining why I really did not want a Facebook friend,
I friended him.
Then came another knock on the door. I ignored it,
rather than doing the polite thing of explaining. Of course,
Facebook does not make this easy. The medium is designed
to facilitate having more friends, not less. When my friend
jokingly complained I was refusing him after I had already
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I realized there was a consequence to the medium. To
ignore the invitation creates problems. And accepting the
invitation suggests you will regularly read the status updates your friends post and that you too will post enough
to make the “friendship” worthwhile. Often, if you ask
someone on Facebook a question about their life, they
will ask why you haven’t read their posts.
Soon the number of knocks on my door began to grow.
There seemed no easy way to explain why I might not
want to be someone’s Facebook friend, other than to first
accept them as a friend and then send them a message
about why I really didn’t want Facebook friends and didn’t
plan to update my timeline.
The use of the medium created dilemmas that didn’t
exist before. For the people who sent me friend requests,
all they knew was I was ignoring them. So, I deleted my
Facebook account. Now I don’t regularly see what the
EFC is posting to Facebook, but neither am I offending
my friends (at least in the Facebook world).
I do have a Twitter account. (See, I am not a Luddite.)
I enjoy reading the tweets of those I follow, and my following them creates no expectation they will follow me.
Besides, I rarely tweet anyway.
What scanning newspapers did for me in the past,
scanning Twitter posts does now. Those I follow end up
informing me about most news I should be aware of. They
provide helpful links, and the occasional banter is entertaining. Twitter serves me and creates no moral dilemma
– at least thus far.
Media critic Neil Postman, in a lecture at Regent Col-
lege, suggested that when making a decision about using
new technology, we should ask, “What is the problem this
technology is meant to solve?”
Think about the advantages and disadvantages, ex-
pectations and demands, as well as the opportunities and
limitations. Does the technology actually serve you in your
relationships and tasks? Or might you find yourself serv-
ing it as an idol?
When anything intended to save time, and facilitate
your calling and relationships, begins to demand time and
distracts you from what you are called to do, it is no longer
Using tools requires discipline. When the technology
disciplines us, it’s time to rethink. Are we serving or being
BRUce J. cleMengeR is president of the Evangelical
Fellowship of Canada. Read more of his columns