My Love-Hate Relationship with New Technology

By John Sweetman - Archived

I love new technology (in ‘new technology’ I am including hardware, software, and ways of communication). I certainly didn’t get this passion from my father, who has never touched a computer in his life. He doesn’t even use a digital alarm clock. No, it seems that my love for technology has been passed on from my grandfather. He was always the first in his community to purchase new products. Of course, in Grandpa’s day that cutting-edge product was the car, refrigerator, motor mower and washing machine—and lots of cameras. I can remember as a kid posing endlessly for photos as Grandpa experimented with his latest camera. And those slide nights…but that’s another story.

Somehow I caught the bug. Of course, I’m no digital native (far too ancient for that), but I usually buy new gadgets before my much more technologically proficient (but financially poorer) sons. And they are jealous. I can’t always use these gadgets well, but it’s fun having them. However, as technology continues to explode, my love for new technology is beginning to wear thin.

At Malyon, our online student population is growing rapidly, and we are working to stay abreast of technology that will assist in teaching and learning. Recently, we decided that all online classes should have at least one webinar during the semester. For my dad’s crew, a webinar is an online video class to which students can log in from their computers. It’s like a big Skype conference. Despite the temptation to avoid webinars until my retirement at the end of the year, I thought that

I should set an example for the faculty, so I programmed a webinar for my online worship class. How difficult could it be? Peter Francis can do them. I set up a date and web address from my college computer and emailed the class. Everything seemed straightforward.

Well, I logged in at the right time from home, but instead of joining the class webinar, I unknowingly set up a new webinar. So there I sat waiting expectantly for the class to join me and no-one came. Eventually, I realised my mistake and followed the link to the right webinar. My beloved students’ faces were now all on my screen, but they were saying things that I couldn’t hear. I looked down at the bottom of my screen to check the sound and found that the little audio icon that is always there had disappeared. I couldn’t turn the sound on because there was no icon to unmute. I spent 10 minutes fiddling while my class desperately tried to help by mouthing their advice with exaggerated pronunciation in the hope that I could lipread. Finally, my sound turned on and we were able to proceed with the webinar. At least, we webinared (new word) for 10 minutes until my home internet went down.

Now before you decide that such inept use of technology rules out Malyon as a possible place of study, may I point out that Peter Francis and Andrew Dunstan run fantastic webinars. Peter can rotate be

tween the video screen and a PowerPoint with ease. And he doesn’t even own a smartwatch! I’m sure that I’ve been humbled enough now. Surely my next webinar in a few weeks’ time will be both painless and enlightening.

But I tell this story to illustrate how frustrating new technology can be, even when you appreciate it. I think that it’s healthy to have a love-hate relationship with the technological changes that are drastically influencing the way we do life.

I like the way new technology enables us to:

  • Stay in contact with people whenever we want
  • Find out about and communicate with each other through social media
  • Discover all sorts of information at the touch of a button
  • Watch just about any TV show we want (and avoid advertisements)
  • Effectively teach online students (anywhere in the world)
  • Check how many steps we walk every day and stay a little fitter
  • Find out where our family members (or at least their phones) are located at any time
  • Continue to work on this article from whichever computer I choose
  • Communicate information with a much greater audience

Yet I worry about the way new technology enables us to:

  • Avoid personal friendships by replacing them with online relationships
  • Be accessible to anyone every moment of the day
  • Project our lives as wonderful and without pain
  • Believe fake news (lies) because it looks and feels like real news
  • Evade periods of quietness and solitude
  • Limit thoughtful discussion to a few soundbites or twitter comments
  • Retreat into our own worlds with people who share our prejudices
  • Fill our minds with unimportant facts and news about shallow people
  • Gain easy and immediate access to so much evil

The world is changing rapidly, and unless we have a specific call from God to be Luddites, we need to do our best to stay abreast. As history has shown us, with change comes new kingdom opportunities. We don’t want to miss those.

I remember the hue and cry from some members when we first purchased a data projector at Bracken Ridge church in the early 90s. Quite a few saw it as a dreadful waste of money. They felt that there was nothing wrong with the overhead projector we were using (remember those?). But where would be without this technology now? Data projectors have been a huge help in communication and worship.

But while many of us (with a few exceptions like my dad) can quickly see the exciting benefits of new technology, the real costs are often more subtle, slower appearing, and harder to talk about. Yet they must be raised and considered—Not by the reactionaries, who can easily be dismissed, but by the wise and mature and trusted. These are challenging times. We must hasten slowly. New technology is not necessarily good nor essential. It’s just new.

The final word belongs to Scripture: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—¬¬if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).