Just a Tool?

But is it? Are smartphones, social media, tablets, smart watches, and more just tools? They can be used for good or bad. Sure they can be abused, but the ancient dictum applies abuse doesn’t destroy use.

Executives in charge of Big Tech sure don’t see it as an inert tool. They know the user is being effected by merely using their “tools”, and in some cases, they exploit that use. For that reason, they monitor their own children’s use of their products. That right there should tell you something.

John Perritt says in A Students Guide to Technology, “we look at our phones every 4.3 minutes…” Then he comments, “If that’s not worship, I don’t know what is.”

Since I don’t use a smartphone at all and social media only in a very limited way, you can justifiably write me off as one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. To this I say, listen to the creators of Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Read The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I’ve read both, and I am amazed that people still engage so much and so uncritically with the Four and the Internet.

I think this is apropos of all the tech mentioned above but particularly social media. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Live Not By Lies”. It’s a short essay he released in 1974 right after being arrested. This is the text that spurred me to not watch TV passively. I denounce, renounce, criticize, and identify the lie when I see and hear it. But, truthfully, with TV there is so much that much still comes through.

I haven’t read this book but Marvin Olasky, in the 1-16-21 WORLD magazine, recommends it: “David Morrow’s Drowning in Screen Time (Salem/Regnery, 2020) shows that more screen time means less teen intercourse, brawling, and boozing, but also less volunteering, job-holding, church or youth grouping, and maturing. Screens give adults access to more news and views, but also more misinformation and paranoia. Morrow’s chapter titles accentuate the negative.: ‘Sleepier, Fatter, and Sicker: What Screens Are Doing to Our Bodies,’ ‘Screens – Anxiety Machines,’ ‘How Screens Divide Us Into Warring Tribes,’ ‘Swipe Left: How Screens are Weakening Relationships.’ He gives suggestions – ‘How Excessive Eddie Cut Back’ – and has chapters on how to help kids, friends, spouses, students, or parishioners addicted to screens.”

In the 80s I read Taming the TV Habit. The author predicted that future generations would be appalled how uncritically we consumed TV. Similar warnings were posted about the computer in the 90s. Smartphones and social media were real gamechangers, but they were all of a piece with tools that aren’t inert. I have never read a warning about typewriters or telephones. Those too could be used evilly, but in using them you are not being used. Modern technology in my view, and others, is not ‘just a tool’. In fact, in the use of it we seem to be the tool in Merriam-Webster’s third sense of the word: one who “is used or manipulated by another.”

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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