iDisciplines: Spiritual Practices in a Digital World

Mark Round, Digital / Binary

You and I have a problem. To an ever-increasing extent our digital technologies—especially the mobile devices and smart, Internet-connected things—these technologies are doing our work for us.  As I drove recently, the entire 3.5 hour drive was plotting for me by the Google Maps app.   Soon my car will drive the route for me.  When I arrived at the hotel, the television was already on, inviting me to spend some time on one of 300 channels. I was bewitched by the ease of entertainment, which sought to save me from my presumed boredom.  Soon I will be able to watch any movie, television show, or any sports game I want, at any time, through my digital eyeglasses, or my cyber-cornea.

You might say: what’s the problem?  These are helpful and enjoyable conveniences.  And indeed, I must admit, there is much to appreciate about these and other more serious advantages of our digital technology.  The problem is that all this functional and fun technology is disabling us spiritually.  It is amusing us to ignorance of the gospel, assisting us to weakness in character, connecting us to isolation from other Christians.   Our entertainment takes increasing time from serious study and discussion of God’s word; our access to information diminishes our ability and desire to work hard for what is good and true; and our ability to connect superficially at a distance makes it more difficult and less likely to meaningfully communicate and interact with others in society.  These critiques of technology are long-standing, represented, for example, in the work of Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul, and Sherry Turkle.

My goal is not to rehash these critiques of technological society, nor to persist or to be deterministic in such critique.  I wish to ask how we can grow as children and servants of God in such a digital culture.  How can we mature so that we know the fullest joy as Christians in this digital life?  How can we overcome these problems and have a full hope of heaven in the life to come?  And, perhaps most distinctively, how can our digital technology help to increase this true joy and hope?

Because I believe that answers to these questions cannot avoid the digital technology that is increasingly the air that we breathe, I think of Christian life needing to be rooted in “iDisciplines,” which is a term I will use for habitual and purposeful uses (and non-uses) of technology.  Within a Christian context, these iDisciplines are spiritual exercises modeled upon Biblical texts, and formative of character and conduct that follows Jesus by living faithfully with and through electronic tools and the digital environment in which they participate.  As we progress in this conversation, please consider what are the spiritual disciplines you need to be faithful in digital society.  How might your devices be the equipment for these Christian exercises?  And how does the Bible provide a formative basis for these transformative practices?

Author: John Weaver

Dr. John B. Weaver is the Dean of Library Services and Educational Technology at the Brown Library of Abilene Christian University. He teaches in the College of Biblical Studies at ACU, and preaches at the Oak Street Church of Christ in Abilene, TX.

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