Plugged In, Checked Out

 Photo from  jeshoots.com

Photo from jeshoots.com

Quick, before you keep reading, look around you wherever you are: how many people are enraptured with their phones or have headphones plugged in or haven't looked up from that iPad in a while? (Psst, if you're reading this on your phone or tablet, you might be that person)

Chances are, we've all been that person. The integration of always-on, smart technology has been a subtle shift over the last decade, but one that is now noticable to even the casual observer.

Now, let me clear this up: I'm not going to condemn or judge people for using tech in their daily lives. We all do in some way, me especially included. The question is whether or not we are aware of how our devices and the information they provide actually affect us.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that comes your way on a daily basis? Feeds, playlists, updates, messages, trending topics; it's a lot to try to keep up with. Our ease of access to information can itself easily become a source of stress and frustration in our lives.

At the same time, I think we have an unconscious expectation that all of that information will remain accessible to us. We don't want to be cut off. That should get our attention. Think about the last time your phone died before your day was over. How did that experience make you feel? Worried? Anxious? Upset?

As I sat down to write this very post, I found myself fighting a bunch of Wi-Fi issues. Laptop...stuck scanning for a signal; phone...nothing except a data connection. Back and forth between the two for several minutes before throwing up my hands in resignation. My lack of ability to connect my device(s) to the Web sucked all of my attention from the very things I came to this coffee shop to complete.

In their incredibly insightful work, The Hyperlinked Life: Live with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload, David Kinnaman and Jun Young write,

"We have an intimate relationship with our gadgets and the online world that fuels them. They are always with us, serving as reliable assistants, trusted advisers, close companions. There is a growing population of people who require hourly dosages of texting, emails, Facebook, and the like to feel connected to friends, family, and colleagues. The irony is that when we plug in to the Net, we unplug from the room we’re in and the people there who seek our attention."1

We are all residents in the Information Age. There's no stopping the trend toward greater technological integration in the places in which we work, play, and live. I've found that people increasingly have one of two reactions to our state of affairs: unquestioning acceptance and adoption of technological change or flat-out rejection of it. It's like the early adopters vs. the luddites. Can't there be a third way?

Kinnaman and Young offer some perspective: "We must put technology in its rightful position — not as an idol, but as one of the tools we use to get things done. Technology is part of the way of wisdom: something that makes us smarter about meaningful living and more humble about all we don’t really understand...For the Christ-follower, wisdom in the hyperlinked era isn’t just about fulfilling our own desires for our own purposes, but those of Jesus."2

Back to my Wi-Fi woes, I found something kind of crazy happened in the absence of my oh-so expected Internet connection. While I couldn't connect to my projects digitally, I got to sit across from a person I'd never met who began to tell me about himself, his time in France, and his hopes and plans for the future. We had a great conversation. Not planned, not expected, but much appreciated. That physical connection is the very thing we need more of and, frankly, that I think we long for.

We have to recognize that we are all capable of connecting to our tech without ever connecting to each other. 

But it doesn't have to be that way.

One of the radical things about God's kingdom is that it calls us into greater interconnectedness and interdependence. That can't happen outside of authentic relationships with one another. The promise of the kingdom also can't be held out to others without forging relationships with those whom we do not yet know. Tech can complement that experience, but it can't replace it.

As you take stock of how your relationship to tech and the content it provides you with, how do you think it has affected the way you live? Have you ever considered the amount of time, energy, and attention your connected life demands? I'd love to hear what you think, so hit me up on Twitter or Facebook (yes, use your tech to do that) and share your comments, questions, and thoughts.

We're going to have an open conversation about our relationship to tech and its impact on our lives at the next CityView, Jan. 14, 7:00 pm at the Vintage Arts Center (4523 Magazine St). We'd love to hear your stories about how digital living has impacted your life, thinking, and faith, so come out and join the conversation. 


1 Jun Young & David Kinnaman, The Hyperlinked Life: Live with Wisdom in an Age of Information Overload (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 54.

2 Young and Kinnaman, 66.