Technology is Blistering our Brains

I was helped and challenged by this podcast interview with John Dyer, on Technology and the Spiritual Life. Dyer is Executive Director of Communications and Educational Technology, and Adjunct Professor in Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary. He’s also the author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology. I’d encourage you to listen to the whole interview, but to whet your appetite, here are my takeaways with some of the transcript.

Technology is a God-given transformative force

The way I often think about technology is kind of two things: 1. It is God given. 2. It is a transformative force. I would say, technology is a God given transformative force. That does help me say (that the Scriptures seem to say) that human creativity is good, full stop. It is God given. At the same time it is always going to be transforming something. It is going to transform my culture, my family, myself, my body, my mind, something like that. And so that helps me think what I’m going do with it.

Overuse of Technology “Blisters” the Brain

One thing Marshall McLuhandefines technology with is, that it is always an extension of your humanity. So for example, a telescope extending your eyes, or glasses extending your eyes, or a car extending your legs and so forth, or a shovel extending your arms. When we think about what modern technology extends, probably one of the major differences is that something like an iPhone is primarily working on operating on the level of your mind. And that is something that is not physical, you can’t see it, so sometimes I think its effects are harder to detect. Unlike blisters that we see immediately, that which happens in our mind is slower, takes place over time. 

Our minds adapt to what we do with them

One of the terms you will hear is neuro-plasticity and all that really means is that your mind is just like your body and that it adapts to whatever you have it to do over time. So for example, when we go into the gym we use tools based on how we want them to shape our body, right? So if we do a treadmill we want long lean legs and if we do leg press we want big strong legs. And the catch is that we can’t do both. So if you want to have your mind to be shaped in the direction where you really are good at reading long books, you got to do that, and if you want to be able to read lots of little disconnected bits, you should do that a lot. It is just hard to do both. You can’t be a marathon runner and a leg lifter. They are two different activities so you want to decide what kind of mind you want to shape just like when you are shaping your body, if you choose an apple versus a candy bar you know it is going to change you.

We can’t beat 17 PhD’s in the attention war

I think one thing to think about that, before we go on, is to remember that out there are technology companies that are employing people with seventeen PhD’s in human attention and all kinds of computer degrees, and their entire job is to get your eyes on your phone as often as possible in order to sell you ads. So you were trying to say, “I bet I can beat a thousand googlers, I can overcome that with my own will.” Well, that is very hard to do. I think to acknowledge that, is very important, because people are fighting for your attention in very active ways worth billions of dollars. So when we say: “oh I can probably just beat them,” that is a bold claim

Use devices for creating, not just consuming

What I try to differentiate between with my kids is whether they are creating something or if they are consuming something. So if one of my kids is saying “I want to write a story on the computer” or “I want to edit a video” or “I want to paint,” I will let them do that for as many hours as they want to do that. If they say “I want to watch a show,” we think a little more about that time. So one thing is to encourage people to say: “these devices are for making things and they are not just for consuming things.”

Kids need “driver-training” in digital device use

When we gave them a car we waited till they were fifteen and we had them go through this huge amount of training and responsibility and there were consequences to it when you violated it. So I think we want to do the same thing with the phone. We want to think through how to do some intense training with them, how to do some follow up and how to set some boundaries. So if you search for like “family technology contract,” there are millions on google, those can be really useful framing device. Also checking up on that every six months. We have given our kids one more little rule and that is to say: you are going to see some things evil on the internet. So it is not just that we will prevent it, we believe that they will see it. The idea with our kids is that we tell them, “hey, if you see something that you know you shouldn’t see, close the laptop and the phone and come talk to us about it.” Then you won’t be in trouble and we will work what is going on. So they have that expectation in there.