Be Careful What Tools You Use!

Several years back my wife and I were visiting a Taiwanese Chiropractor to get our backs realigned, and something quite disturbing happened.

Half-way through the hour long session, the lady’s cellphone rang.

I remember lying stretched out on the bed in a rather uncomfortable position while she went to answer her phone. She ended up talking on the phone for 10 minutes while I just sat there lying on the bed.

Under different circumstances 10 minutes may not seem like a long time, however, since my back was arched in an awkward position, it was just enough to tick me off.

I was upset because my family had driven nearly an hour to this lady’s office, and we were paying her a high hourly-rate for her chiropractic work, only to be put on hold so she could talk with someone else (who obviously was not present, or paying her for her time) while I lay there stretched out on the bed.

But then again, maybe this type of behavior is to be expected in our modern age?

She was at work, in the middle of her craft, and out of no-where, the ever-present phone beckoned her to stop what she was doing. It’s as if she didn’t have a choice in the matter. The gong was drummed, the servant must answer.

Our Tools Shape Us

Ordained minister, and professor of Religion and Greek at Grove City College, T. David Gordon says that, “We shape our tools, and our tools shape us.” In His book, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers” he looks at how the transition from a typographic (book) culture to an electronic and image-based culture has affected our ability to read, understand, and compose texts. We have grown to depend on images instead of language, and as a natural result, our ability to communicate via the spoken and written word has diminished greatly.

The point is this- No matter what tools we are using (whether they be high-tech gadgets like “smart-phones”, a computer, or a tv; or manual-labor tools like shovels, hammers, and splitting mauls)

we are being shaped by our tools.

The ironic thing is that we often only look at what our tools are doing for us, and not what it is doing to us- what we get from it, and not what it costs us to use it.  There is an opportunity cost hidden in everything we use.

The implications of this are severe and far-reaching.

If we don’t take into consideration the opportunity costs, and become very aware of what our tools are doing to us, how they change us, then we are setting ourselves up for a scary and unpredictable future, for ourselves and our posterity.

Illustrations Galore

Let me give a few quick examples of how our tools shape us:

The Keyboard:

With the introduction of the typewriter and the computer; with keyboards, and touch-screens, and spellcheckers (things that help us to type the written word with great ease and speed) what has been the result on our handwriting, and our ability to spell words? I think we can all agree that previous generations had better handwriting and spelling skills. But on the flip side, we are now able to be so much more productive than they could have ever dreamed. Decreased ability to spell and write by hand vs. Increased productivity and saved time. You decide.

The TV:

With the introduction of the TV we now can watch any type of entertainment, news, sports, cooking, or travel programming we want.  It’s simply amazing how a flat rectangle in our living rooms can transport us to anywhere in the world, in an instant! But at what cost?

What is the impact that watching T.V. has on you and your children’s ability to communicate, and to focus? What’s the impact on your personal bank account (after all, commercials work!)?

In the past we were limited to watching and listening to those in our physical vicinity, which allowed for actual person-to-person interaction, and communication. Now we stare at flashing screens in a silent stupor, while the TV quickly and violently jumps from one shot to another. There is no need to talk back to our T.V. screens… no, I’m wrong. Now we can! Hey, Siri!

And not to mention, our home becomes miraculously filled with the very items in those annoying commercials! How strange!

The Cellphone + “Smartphone:”

One of the most ubiquitous tools of our age is the smart phone. It has the ability to do so much. It’s the ultimate multi-tool of tech gadgets. But is it making us smarter? Sure, we now have instant access to anyone, anytime we want. We no longer need an appointment to have access to someone. But with that ability comes the likely hood that we too may be interrupted at any time.
This also means that we will be speaking less with those near us. We will no longer be required to be in one’s presence before we can communicate with them. It’s bringing those far away closer, and pushing those close to us farther away. Can we find a balance?

Men and Tools

We men like our tools, we earn a living by them, we fix our homes by them, we conquer the world around us by using them. Whether they be tools of manual labor, or the latest tech that can do endless things, we are drawn to tools because of their power, their ingenuity, perhaps their beauty, and because they make our daily tasks easier. But we tend to forget the other side of the picture. When we complete something faster, we also tend to fill up that extra time with even more tasks. Our to-do list just gets even.

Traces in Our Hands

Old tools often left short-term physical traces of their affect on us- such as a hammer or shovel, which when used long enough, can cause the hands to become calloused.

Modern tech-gadgets, on the other hand, may have a physically less-noticable, yet a long-term impact on other areas of our life. Like the TV and smartphone, which when stared at long enough, might impair, or at least stagnate your language skills. Not to mention eye and neck strain, radiation, and the likes.

Actions Steps:

So what’s a man to do if our tools can affect us in both positive and negative ways? Where do we draw the line?

I think it would be wise to start with the following:

  1. Set up personal boundaries and limitations on how much you use each tool.
  2. Talk with your wife about setting up family standards on how much time should be spent using tools like the TV, cellphones, computers, and yes, even books. (Time alloted + how to use + acceptable content)
  3. Teach these standards to your children and try to model consistency
  4. Remind them that these are matters and areas of wisdom, and not directly a matter of sin and righteousness. (Although, as with any tool used inappropriately, they can lead to sin. Too much time using gadgets might lead to neglecting family, or be an avenue for pornography, a convenient way to gossip, etc.)
  5. Remind your children that as Christians we can have differing standards from other Christian families.
  6. When deciding how much to use each tool, start with the end-goal in mind. If we’re trying to train our children to live God-glorifying lives, ask- “How can I best equip them for that task?” For some it might be train your kids to excel in areas of technology- in order to have a greater influence and reach a greater audience; for others it might be the opposite- shelter your children from technology and focus on glorifying God through excellent communication skills; and still for others, it might be to try and walk a middle line, balancing the increased productivity of modern tools and at the same time pursuing excellence in communication. Regardless, do all things in faith, and ask that God would help you make the right decisions.

Some Final Thoughts

I think advances in technology and the development of new tools is a great thing. We are called to steward and bring the world under the dominion of Christ, and tools can help us to that end. But we must always count the cost of the tools and methods we use. We must think about how these tools affect our priorities, our habits, our family, our etiquette, our use of time, our spiritual health, our physical health, and our ability to communicate with others.

When a couple goes out on a date only to be pre-occupied with their cellphones, when someone comes to visit our homes and we go and answer every phone call, when we’re working on a project and we stop mid-task to check social media or sports highlights, when we’re having family devotions and even God gets put on hold… then we’ve gone too far. We need to learn to draw the lines. We need to wake up and realize that these tools are indeed shaping us. In short, we need to be intentional about how we use our tools.

But how much they shape us is really up to you and me. May we learn to use them wisely.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! Please leave a comment.

Photo credit: arbyreed via / CC BY-NC-SA

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