The world is changing rapidly. It’s moving so fast sometimes it feels like your head is spinning faster than the earth on its axis. You wake up one day and say, “Whoa…what happened? How did we get here?”
This rapid change and our pursuit to keep up is nowhere more evident than with technology. And while it has helped create a great standard of living for us I’m afraid it’s revealing one big flaw we’ve yet to conquer.
A Technological Revolution
I think technology is awesome! It has literally shaped the world, perhaps no more so than in the past 150 years. Just think about the inventions since 1850 that have altered life:
- the telephone
- the automobile
- the atomic bomb
- the computer
- the Saturn Five rocket
- the Internet
Not to mention how technology has changed the medical landscape. A member of my family recently had a procedure where he swallowed a pill that contained a tiny camera. The camera took pictures of his digestive tract as it made its way through the body so doctors could diagnose the health problem.
That’s amazing technology that was unthinkable not that long ago.
But technology isn’t just about the big things. It has come to impact us personally as we use it more and more everyday. It’s become routine because we have so much access to it. We don’t even think about it anymore unless we are stuck in a circumstance without it.
When I reflect on my teenage years during late 1980s, I realize how far this has come. Unlike today’s youth I didn’t have a cell phone. We went to the library for information instead of searching the Internet. The only streaming video you watched was on the TV or through your VCR. If you wanted to have a face-to-face conversation with your friend it happened in the backyard or at school.
The landscape for teens sure has changed as evidenced by this new data just released in a Pew Research study:
- 92% of teens report going online daily
- 24% of those who go online daily report it as “almost constantly”
- Nearly 75% of teens have access to a smartphone
- A typical teen sends and receives 30 text messages a day
- 87% of teens have access to a desktop computer
- 58% of teens have access to a tablet
- 81% of teens have access to a gaming console
- 47% of teens talk with others over video connections such as Skype or Facetime
None of those activities were possible to the mainstream public 25-30 years ago. Yet here we are in 2015 and I sense we have yet to understand how the integration of technology and our personal lives is truly impacting our culture. How will these teens interact and use technology when they become adults? How will it impact them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually?
Here’s what I think they will be facing. I’m pretty sure about this list because, as an adult, I deal with them already.
Technology Dangers and the One Big Flaw
As I analyze my own life and observe the lives of those around me I see technology’s negative side. I’m not calling for a ban on technology because it’s surely here to stay. However, we have to recognize where we might go adrift by using it so much in our personal lives.
For starters, technology pressures our time. We spend hours watching viral videos or playing Facebook games and then wonder why we don’t have time to do the household chores, play with the kids or even more fundamentally, get a job.
It pressures our incomes. We are spending hundreds of dollars to keep up because new products roll out so fast. This is damaging our budgets and decreasing the amount of money we have for retirement and other investments.
It damages our relationships. No longer do we really know people. We only know them through their feed. And we can be made to feel inadequate or inferior around others because we don’t have the latest gadget.
It distracts us from other activities that are more important. You name it…housework, schoolwork, your work-work – personal technology butts its head in like a bull and pulls us away from things that really matter.
But the one big flaw it’s revealing in our character is a bigger deal than all these. This flaw is paramount in the practice of “keeping up with the Joneses.” And if it’s not conquered you’ll never win with money.
I’m talking about contentment.
How Can We Be Content When Technology Moves So Fast?
It’s hard to be content with a smartphone that’s a few generations old. When you see the new versions come out it’s tempting to splurge on one to get all the new, fancy features. In reality, we can live with the one we have – we just don’t think we can.
Every piece of technology in our home is at least one generation behind the current models, except maybe our DVR we just got within the year when we purchased cable again. At some point I’ll replace my 8 year old MacBook Pro I’m typing on now but I’m not ready yet. It still works with decent enough efficiency.
Do I want one right now?
Do I need one right now?
Am I willing to wait and save to purchase one when I really need it?
And if I’m honest, I struggle with this more than I care to admit.
What helps me is to realize that my everyday needs are what matter most. Paying for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and utilities are all more important than if I’m sporting an Apple Watch.
There are other needs that matter more than getting the newest technology. My son’s baseball games matter more. The relationship with my wife matters more. My spiritual and physical health matter more.
And funding college matters more.
Having money for my retirement matters more.
Giving to others matters more.
I can’t do any of those things to the extent that is needed if I’m constantly spending money to purchase the latest update.
So how do I practice contentment day in and day out?
I don’t know what will work for you but here are some things that have helped me:
- Help others, especially those who are less fortunate. Nothing gets the focus off your own situation more than reaching out and impacting others.
- Avoid comparisons. Forget what other people are doing. Focus on your own life.
- Realize the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome has no cure. You won’t receive any lasting happiness by purchasing the newest gadget. You can spend money to find fun but no amount of money or possessions will bring happiness or fulfillment.
- Admit the difference between needs and wants. It’s OK to have wants. But don’t convince yourself they are the same as needs. I’d love to have a bigger home in a nicer neighborhood but it’s not a need. We can manage where we live right now.
Technology, Life and Finding Meaning
My fear is that as technology becomes more personal people will use it as a way to find meaning in their life. Everything is seemingly available at the touch of a few buttons so why would I venture into the real world to find the answers to my problems? Technology will fill the void instead of meaningful, real life relationships.
That’s one of the reasons my 14-year old daughter doesn’t have a smartphone yet. It’s why we limit our kid’s television and movie choices and keep them off the video games during the school week. It’s why we still routinely eat around the table for dinner, put puzzles together and go on nature hikes.
I love personal technology but have recognized it doesn’t have to be the end-all and be-all of life. Some of my most rewarding moments have come with the smartphone in airplane mode.
Learn to be content with what you have and only buy when you have a need. More than likely that will lead to great gain.
Questions: Am I overstating the dangers of technology? How has your life changed with all the personal technology we have available? What is something positive technology has allowed you to accomplish? How do you remain content when all the marketing forces in the world are telling you to “Buy, buy, buy!”?