Me, Myself, and iPhone

June 8th, 2011
Image © gnta | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Can God compete with technology?

I walked into a restaurant the other day and everyone had their heads bowed. For a moment I thought there had been some spiritual awakening in America and they were all praying! But then I realized everyone was just looking down at their iPhones. So much for the spiritual awakening. I've had similar experiences at home. For example, my wife brings her iPhone to bed with us. Don't laugh, it's painful enough as it is. Sometimes the iPad shacks up with us too. It makes me feel like the jealous, neglected husband. "Remember me?" I often joke to her. But who can compete with this stuff? I mean, the bright lights and vibrant colors, the touch-screen and the apps - my God, the apps!! I don't want to seem like one of the Ingalls Wilder clan from Little House on the Prairie, but whatever happened to the "good ol' (wifi-free) days?"

The majority of Americans these days are glued to their iPhones, iPads and iWhatever 24/7, even when another human being is directly in front of them. Of course, it's possible that my perspective is off because I'm likely the last person on earth without a smart phone (I still have one of those old flip phones, which feels like a 1960's rotary phone when I'm trying to type a text message). But just because I don't own a Mac doesn't mean I can't recognize the obvious: our connectivity is killing our connection with God.

Can God compete with technology? I used to think claims that religion would one day become irrelevant were ridiculous, but now I can't help but wonder if they're right. I imagine we'll still call ourselves people of faith, it's just that we'll end up too technologically advanced to even remember what the purpose of faith was in the first place (hint: it starts with 'r' and ends with 'elationship'). Of course relationships are still possible in our world today, it's just that they're different and the means of relating to others evolve faster than we can keep up with. Relationships today are generally mediated by a "middle-man" - men called Facebook, Twitter, Skype and i(Fillintheblank). Maybe that's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe face-to-face relationships and communication are overrated. It's true that various forms of new media can enhance our relationships with others, even God. For instance, you can download the entire Bible (and even the Greek and Hebrew keyword translations) onto your smartphone to peruse anytime you like without receiving stares for reading your 20lb. King James in the grocery store check-out line. You can also subscribe to sermon podcasts, receive daily scripture emails or tweets and even participate in online worship services. These advances help connect many people, especially those who wouldn't ordinarily participate in a community of faith, with God and others. But...

...are any of these things substitutes for the real thing? There is great value in technology, no one is arguing against that. However, when it comes to connecting with God on a deeper level, there's also no media that can replace a face-to-face experience. It's the difference between staring at the screen of your iPhone and staring at the stars at night. Only one elicits true wonder.

In our age of hyper-connectivity, do you think that our technological advances are a help or a hindrance to our faith lives? Is your connectedness just one more way for you to ignore God and neglect your spirituality, or is it a useful tool in relating to the Divine? In your opinion, can God compete with technology? Or do the two not necessarily need to be at odds?

I'm sure I could just Google the answer, but that, of course, would take all the fun out of the conversation.


Jay Cooper is the pastor of Jacob's Well, a new United Methodist Church plant in Chandler, AZ. He blogs at Souls Gone Wild.

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