Let’s be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. In His creation mandate, God commanded humanity to subdue the earth and rule over it (Genesis 1). Technology enables us to do that. Wonderfully. When it works. So there’s nothing inherently wrong with technology. Though currently there’s something very wrong with my internet provider. But there is something wrong with us. And so technology in the wrong hands, namely ours, is potentially damaging. And so we need to be aware of the dangers of social media. I could think of seven.
1. It consumes our time
I can waste hours browsing. It starts on the BBC Sport website. This very morning my coffee break was accompanied by highlights of the Pro12 game between the Cardiff Blues and Ulster. I have no real interest in Welsh or Irish rugby. It was a time filler. But it led on to the Edinburgh game in which they were soundly thrashed at the hands of another team whose identity passed me by! Surfing the web, checking your e-mails and updating Facebook can be a real time-waster. It doesn’t have to be. But it often is, isn’t it? And just think of all the other much more useful and beneficial things that I could have been doing!
2. It dominates our life
Technology can take over. It drives us and rules us. It becomes our master and not our slave. Apparently half of twenty somethings check their Facebook account within minutes of waking up. Many of them whilst still in bed. I’ve been known to do that with the phone. But now it’s banned from the bedroom and the kitchen table! We may not be that attached to our technology but how would you feel if someone suggested removing your smart phone for a week? The strength of your response to that suggestion will be revealing.
3. It disrupts our activities
I tend to have a ‘rule’ that I won’t interrupt a real-time conversation if the landline goes. I figure if it’s important they’ll ring back or they’ll leave a message. I wouldn’t normally let someone else barge into a real life conversation out of politeness to the person I’m speaking to. So why should it be any different when someone who’s not in the room tries to initiate a conversation? But mobile phones have changed all that. A quick look at the screen is usually followed by ‘can I just get this?’ Especially if it’s Rosslyn. And I’ve found it very hard not to allow the beep of my phone to disrupt whatever else I may be doing.
4. It changes our communication
I’m not simply talking about the shameful way in which the English language has been massacred by text speak. I’m talking about how we need to capture something in 140 characters. And I’m talking about the inability to mount a sustained argument because anything more than 400 words simply won’t be read in a blog post. I tend to ignore those rules. This blog post is 850 words. But, if I play by the rules of this online communicative game then I can’t afford to include the all-important nuance and qualifying statements that gives anything we say credibility, subtlety and persuasion. We just assert. We don’t justify. And that’s a great pity. It’s changing the way we say things.
5. It eliminates our learning
In a bygone era I used to think that learning to do multiplication and division and all that stuff was unnecessary because I had a calculator. After all, what’s the point of learning mental maths when a machine will do it for you? I now have to resist the temptation to do the same with information. I used to read stuff, try to understand it and learn it. Now I just store it. I know where to get stuff. I don’t know stuff. It’s not quite as useful.
6. It distracts our concentration
One of our staff habitually checks his e-mails, updates Facebook and engages in all kinds of online activities whilst we have staff meetings. And it drives me up the wall. He’s doing it to save time. His time. But it interrupts the social dynamic of what ought to be a very relational time. But it’s not just him. It’s me. On my own. When I need to write a sermon, browsing the internet can become very attractive. I repeatedly check my e-mails. I browse the Wiggle webpage. And if there’s a sporting event being streamed then I’m done for.
7. It feeds our addictions
We all have addictive temperaments. We’re attracted by certain things. And so we find some things very hard to live without. We’re not all the same. We desire different things for different reasons. But we’re fundamentally desire driven people. And we all have habitual ways of fulfilling those desires. Lots of those desires can now be fulfilled quickly and readily online. And so some of us aren’t happy until we’re up to speed on the social gossip, checked what our friends are doing or checked the footy scores. For lots of us, social media feeds our obsession and we find it hugely problematic to put the brakes on.