What happened when Alan McGrechan lost his iPhone whilst doing mission work in Mozambique? Well, after a few heart palpitations, he got on with life. Here, in the first of my guest blogger posts, Alan explains how technology was drawing him away from real life in Mozambique towards a virtual life back home in Australia, and how God changed him.
Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, mail – upgrade it,
Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it,
Snap it, work it, quick – erase it,
Write it, cut it, paste it, save it,
Load it, check it, quick – rewrite it,
Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it,
Drag and drop it, zip – unzip it,
Lock it, fill it, call it, find it,
View it, code it, jam – unlock it,
Surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it,
Cross it, crack it, switch – update it,
Name it, rate it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax – rename it,
Touch it, bring it, Pay it, watch it,
Turn it, leave it, start – format it.
When French electronic music duo, Daft Punk, released their third studio album Human After All in 2005 it received mixed reviews. The lyrics above, from the single technologic, were paired with similar songs such as, On/Off, Robot Rock, Television Rules the Nation. Even band member Thomas Bangalter confessed “The record is not something intended to make you feel good.” Today, however, it is held in high esteem by Daft Punk fans. Perhaps in 2005 we just weren’t ready for its strange, jarring style.
With the world of technology constantly changing our lives, these lyrics – with their sharp, harsh, stunted phrases of things we do each day – make me anxious. The actions described are now all too familiar to us, but are we ready for what is next? Are we prepared for this continual rapid advancement in technology? Are we ready to be so well-informed, and so well-connected every minute of the day? Are we being allured by the benefits of these technologies for our productivity, knowledge, and work, but failing to realise what they are taking away from us?
13 month after arriving in Mozambique none of these questions were on my mind. They are now. After losing my iPhone recently I realized how often I had been reaching for it ever spare minute. The compulsion to connect on Facebook, see new photo’s on Instagram, check email, or read my favorite music blog was ingrained into my daily routine. My brain had to be retrained to not get distracted by the “other world” in my pocket. In a Mozambican culture where no one has a smartphone it is hard to be fully present and effective in the lives of those around, when this other world is so readily available. Don’t get me wrong, contact with family, friends and home is very important, but if it is at the expense of connecting with the immediate world, there could be a problem. And if checking in with Facebook and email is more regular than checking in with God, there is also a problem!
The first two commandments make it clear that, “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other Gods before me”, and the second, “You shall not make for yourself an idol… you shall not bow down to them or worship them.” Now no one is bowing down to their computer or sing songs to their iPhone but ‘worship’ can also mean time spent with God. And “worshipping an idol” is time spent with something other than God. As Tim Keller explains in Counterfeit Gods an idol can be:
anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…an idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.
Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have an addictive allure that feeds on our need for acceptance and self worth. The idol may not be the Internet itself but the deeper issue of “peer approval” or “social status”. For most of us, if asked, we would say that our identity is found in Christ and our self worth is found through His love and acceptance of us. But is this confirmed by where we spend our time and energy? For our energy to be consumed with seeking the approval of others, we are wasting our time searching for something only God can give. The fullness of joy found by spending time connecting with God is replaced by an empty short-term joy in the shape of a ‘like’ button on Facebook.
Living in a cross-cultural setting away from family and friends has made me reexamine the time spent in the wonderful world of technology. It is easy to justify hours contacting friends and family as they are across the other side of the Indian Ocean. But where is the line drawn? How many hours are being taken away from relationships (or opportunities) right in front of us? … Or our relationship with God? Where can we feel well connected and informed but still hold onto the joy of living each day to the full in God’s presence. A day, where we are not compelled to reach into our pocket whenever we have a spare moment. I cannot help but feel a little robbed of the joy that each day could bring when so many interactions, experiences, conversations are being replaced by a temporary “flash” of joy in my hip pocket. Maybe Thomas Bangalter was on to something when he described his album “not something intended to make you feel good”. Perhaps the next time I feel the need to surf it, scroll it, pause it, click it (and since that was written we can add Post it Poke it, Join it, Like it) I may take a step back, and live in the moment that has been given. As Daft Punk’s album reminds us, we are human after all.