This post is part one of a three-part series on The Future of Faith: Technology and the Cross. This series grew out of a lunchtime panel discussion hosted in April 2015 by the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry. Facilitated by Carson Reed, the conversation focused on topics such as technology’s impact on community-building, making technology work for the church, and the spiritual implications of artificial intelligence. Thanks to our three panelists, Mindi Thompson, Trevor Thompson, and Robert Oglesby, for translating some of their insights into this blog series.
Martin Cooper invented the handheld cell phone device in the early 1970s. He was a visionary for his time, but even he did could not see how his invention would shift the communication patterns of our world. He had no idea that texting would become more prevalent than talking on a mobile phone in 2007 (Nielsen, 2008) . Full conversations would be reduced to 140 characters in a tweet. Private pictures would become a part of the public domain.
New technology is thrilling to create, but we must realize that the technology we created has the power to shape us as well. It is amazing for this Baby Boomer to have a conversation with my daughter in Africa while I am driving in a car to Dallas without being tethered to a wall phone outlet. This wonderful capability can also tempt us to be hyper-connected. Students can lose hours of sleep as they send and receive text messages from their friends throughout the night. The phenomenon of “helicopter parents” grows more prevalent at colleges because technology keeps parents enmeshed in the lives of their kids. Students need some space to grow up and handle their own problems, yet hyper-connection may stunt the students’ ability to mature.
Once the handheld phone was connected to the Internet there was a seismic shift in how students accessed information. The older generations had been managing the topics and amount of information. The Internet was a game changer. Information could now be reached by a computer savvy generation that embraced technology from their first breath in this world. The older generations struggle with technology and find themselves at a great disadvantage. They must ask a digital native (younger person) for help in finding the answer on the Internet. The roles have been flipped upside-down.
There are not many written or unwritten guidelines to help families manage it. Parents rarely have time to reflect on how technology is shaping their relationships. It is time for parents to be strategic in using technology for their goals and to manage technology when it is not leading them toward a good outcome. We attempt to redeem technology as valuable tool for relationships. When our kids are facing a spiritual struggle at school, we can send them a text that we are praying for them. Technology allows us to insert spiritual thoughts and reminders of our love and concern for them. We can coach our kids to put their phones down at restaurants. When our phone rings, we can model how to be fully present and show that relationships should always trump the urgency of a text.
 Wire, Nielsen. “In U.S., SMS Text Messaging Tops Mobile Phone Calling. September 22, 2008. Web. 19 Feb., 2011. Retrieved from http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/in-us-texts-messaging-tops-mobile-phone-calling/
Header image: Herchenroeder, Karissa. May 2015. Retrieved from personal archives.
Robert Oglesby is an Instructor of Bible at Abilene Christian University, where he has directed the Center for Youth and Family Ministry for over 15 years. In 2014 he was selected by the students as ACU’s Teacher of the Year. Robert is also a part-time family minister at the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, TX.