And Then God Said, 'You've Got Mail'
After years of struggle, I came to the light. Specifically, the soft glow of my smartphone screen.
I had tried over and over again to make Bible-reading and daily devotions a regular habit, only to end up shamefully watching my Bible collect dust on my bedside table. Then came the digital world of Bible resources, right on my iPhone, which beckoned to scriptural newsletters, blogs, and apps.
For me, this digital hallelujah moment happened through the Park Forum's devotional blog, 843 Acres. The blog sends out daily emails, following the annual Bible reading plan of Robert Murray M'Cheyne. They hit my smartphone's inbox by 6 a.m. every weekday. As soon as I turn off my alarm, open my New York Times app, and refresh my inbox, it's there.
At this point, my routine has become common among Christians, particularly Christian millennials. Our generation's adoption of social and digital platforms has ushered in a new age of connectivity for our faith. The Barna Group reports that 70 percent of these digital natives read Scripture online. If we don't have the answer to a question, we Google it. We multitask and switch digital platforms to find the information we need.
Yet as much as I love the bite-size format of my email devotional, I can't shy away from the lack of intentionality that pervades the opening, refreshing, and scanning of my emails – even when I'm reading and meditating on Scripture. Or the slavish attention I lavish on my inbox, where a new message always awaits. To co-opt a well-known T.S. Eliot quote, is this how a prayer is to end, not with an amen but a buzz in the pocket?
Even leaders and entrepreneurs within the tech community are beginning to question the ethics of a force that has changed our ability to truly listen and be present. They're bringing up relevant questions for young Christians whose faith practices take them onto their phones and laptops.
Some ask whether the lure of technology has negatively impacted young people's brains, decreasing their ability to sustain undivided attention. Or as one tech writer asks, "Are all the modern devices and digital conveniences we have at our disposal – from the web and social media to smartphones and tablets – making us more distracted and less able to concentrate?"
Perhaps. But it's not too late to change our attitudes. Just as technology enthusiasts have rushed to embrace such axioms as "stay lean" and "work smarter, not harder," a countercultural conversation advocates meditation and mindfulness within digital culture. This latter conversation by no means supersedes the wisdom and directive of the Bible, but still has something to teach us. For if "culture informs technology development and then technology moves culture forwards," a new attitude towards technology can strengthen how we use it to practice our faith.
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