Thursday, February 7, 2013

Driving Through the Garage Door. . . Thoughtlessness and Technology. . .

Jeff Van Gundy admits he wasn’t thinking. . . at least not about what he should have been thinking about. At the time, Van Gundy was the coach of basketball’s New York Knicks. Driving home after a game, he was preoccupied with thinking about how his team could have stopped Grant Hill. He pulled into his driveway and right into his garage. . . without ever hitting the button to lift the door! When Van Gundy tells the story, it’s hilarious. 

The inattention that led to his misfortune is also more common that we’d like to admit. Who among us hasn’t been so focused on some task at hand that we haven’t messed up by missing something we should have noticed, thought about, or been paying attention to?  Usually, though, it doesn’t result in something as minor as a destroyed garage door.

Children and teens are especially susceptible to missing things for the simple reason that they’re consumed with finding their way on the journey through monumental developmental changes and upheaval, a task that’s made even more confusing and complex by their search for answers to life’s most basic questions. Their preoccupation is complicated by the fact that it’s mostly unconscious. Most of them aren’t even aware of the fact that they’re thoughtlessly “driving” through “garage doors” on their passage from childhood to adulthood. It’s all part of the way we get so focused on some things, that some really important things never garner the attention they should.

One place where we see this happening in today’s youth culture is on what’s been dubbed “The Digital Frontier” – that new and never-before-seen technology-induced landscape that’s unfolding in front of us, around us, and even within us. . . just like the Wild, Wild West once unfolded for the pioneers. And like our ancestors who embarked on the adventurous journey westward-ho, we need to be consciously aware that dangers lurk in this world filled with great opportunity and blessing. What makes this reality especially challenging is the fact that those of us called to lead and nurture kids into this new world  - youth workers, parents, pastors, teachers, etc. – are “Digital Immigrants.” We haven’t been born here. We’ve arrived. And like the immigrants who showed up at Ellis Island, most of us have that “deer in headlights” look as we try to navigate our own journey in this strange place that’s unfolding at breakneck speed. As a result, we’re prone to miss the dangers. Our kids, however, are “Digital Natives” who have been born into and onto the Digital Frontier. Because their media and technology are extensions of themselves, they don’t know life without it. So they, too, aren’t really paying much attention. They’re just letting life unfold as it will.

Another way to think about it is to ponder what happens when you take a group of kids to the beach. Some of them can’t wait to get into the water. With a loud “Woo Hoo,” they run full-speed towards the water and don’t even stop when they drop their towel in the sand. Oblivious to any potential dangers that might exist under the surface, they risk injury by diving in head-first. Then there are the waders. Aware that unseen danger might exist, they take their time, they move slowly, and they ease their way into the water as they carefully assess the situation. When it comes to life on the Digital Frontier, we and our students tend to be divers rather than waders. . . embracing everything without thought and then MAYBE asking questions later we when discover that there might just be some risks that exist.

Perhaps one of the most pressing ministry tasks we face in today’s world is our need to carefully endeavor to think Christianly and bring glory to God through the way we engage with and use our technology. . . along with nurturing our students into doing the same. In other words, we should be thinking and teaching seriously about the implications, dangers, and blessings of life on the Digital Frontier. Proverbs 22:3 reminds us the “the prudent sees dangers and hides himself, but the simple go and suffer for it.”

Blogger, writer, and pastor Tim Challies is someone who is being consciously prudent rather than carelessly simple. As a Christian who was also a lover and embracer of all things technology, Challies realized he was messing up by missing things he should have noticed, should have thought about, and should have paid attention to. His wake-up call came when he asked himself, “Do I own my technology, or does my technology own me?” Hmmmm. . . . good question. Challies has laid out his answer in his thoughtful book, TheNext Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion, a guide for viewing and living this journey through a Biblical framework. In The Next Story, he lays out a challenge to bring together experience, theory, and theology. Experience is  about how we use technology. This is typically the only level we and our kids function at. If the technology exists, we embrace and enlist it into our lives. Theory is about how technology operates and the impact it will have on our lives. . . something we usually don’t think about because we’re too busy immersing ourselves in and enjoying our experience to consider how all this stuff might affect us now and for the long-term. Theology is about how God expects us to use technology along with how the Bible informs that use. All I have to do is look in the mirror for a moment of self-evaluation to know that Challies is right when he concludes that we’re experience rich and theory/theology poor. We aren’t enlisting the theoretical and theological tools at our disposal to make sense of the consequences of the use of our technology. When we bring together experience, theory, and theology, it does – as Challies says – create a “sweet spot” of “disciplined discernment.” That’s where we need to live if we don’t want to “drive through the door” and if we want to teach our kids to avoid doing the same.

Tomorrow, I'll throw a list at you. . . a list of cultural "isms" that should cause us to carefully wade rather than recklessly dive.

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