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Nifty Gadgets, Hungry Souls

Last year, my wife got me an iPod Shuffle for Christmas. Now, as far as the technology drool factor goes, the Shuffle is a pretty humble device. No screen. No apps. No GPS. No voice activation. No Angry Birds. Nothing but a gigabyte or two to store a couple hundred songs, and a few buttons to help me navigate.

Even so, my little Shuffle is pretty remarkable. I’ve got about 250 songs on it. That may not seem like a lot. But, really, I could drive halfway across the country before I exhausted that playlist.

I like my Shuffle precisely because it simplifies things. I don’t have to worry about making choices about what I’m going to listen to or take my eyes off the road while I’m driving. It’s pretty cool in that sense.

But today, while driving home from work listening to it, I wasn’t digging the songs randomly selected. I’d listen to the first beat or two and think, No. And again: No. No. No. No. Eventually, one of my all-time favorite tunes cycled through. Nope. Don’t want to listen to that either, I thought. (It was Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” if you must know.)

After that, I got to thinking about the other songs I’d just rejected. They were among my all-time favorites, too. But today, they just weren’t doing it for me. It was my own hand-selected, customized greatest hits list, yet my soul hungered for something more than my iPod Shuffle, cool as it might be, could give me.

I think there’s something in the essence of my dissatisfaction that’s worthy of our attention as Christians. Our culture is increasingly steeped in the idea — a marketing promise that’s everywhere these days — that our little portable doodads are the key to living life to the fullest in 21st-century America. We don’t leave home without them. In fact, more and more, we don’t leave them ever. Several recent studies, for instance, indicate that young people today are getting less sleep than ever because they’re slumbering next to smart phones that wake them up when a text comes in … no matter what time it is. Another study released in December said that teen smartphone users have tripled their data usage in the last year alone.

The implied promise with this technology is that more connectivity, more apps, more features, more, more, more will make our lives fundamentally better, more rich and satisfying. But is that what’s really happening? I wonder. 

I’ve been watching a lot of football this season, and a commercial that really captures this way of life is an ad for one company’s unlimited data plan. The commercial follows a woman as she goes about her day, and we see all the places she pulls out her smartphone to download something or spontaneously surf the Internet. The ad tries to tell us that we don’t realize how much data we’re using — here, there … everywhere. What it inadvertently illustrates, I think, is a woman whose every moment of existence has come to be ruled by her smartphone.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live that way.

Now, I realize that there’s nothing inherently or intrinsically wrong with technology. But I think this is an area that could probably use some scrutiny for many, if not most, of us. 

Last May, a study from the Barna Group titled The Family & Technology Report found that parents watch just as much television and as many movies, use the Internet for as many minutes per day, play as many video games and spend more time emailing and talking on their phone than their children do. The study also found that very few adults or youth take substantial breaks from technology.

David Kinnaman, Barna’s president, commented, “Perhaps technology should be added to discussions about [Christian] stewardship. Technology is as old as craftmans’ tools. But today’s digital and emerging technologies are in a different class than hundreds of other hobbies or interests because they have come to significantly define the use of time, the development of talent, and the allocation of money. Technology is shaping family interactions in unprecedented ways, but we seem to lack a strategic commitment to the stewardship of technology. The Christian community needs a better, more holistic understanding of how to manage existing and coming technological advances.”

I like that perspective. And I think Kinnaman is right in his assessment that we “lack a strategic commitment to the stewardship of technology.”

Personally, I know I need to cultivate that commitment, as I’m just as susceptible to the allure of technology’s pixelated promises as the next person.

Which brings me back to my lowly iPod Shuffle. Instead of being annoyed that I can’t find find a song that I want to listen to, maybe I need to let moments like the one I had today remind me that my soul was made for something bigger than Apple’s snazzy gadgetry, cool as it may be.

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About the Author

Adam Holz
Adam Holz

Adam R. Holz has served as an editor and writer for Plugged In for 20 years. He also spent a decade working for The Navigators, mostly as associate editor for Discipleship Journal. Adam is the author of the NavPress Bible Study “Beating Busyness.” Adam and his wife, Jennifer, have three children and enjoy watching movies, playing board games and playing music together.

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