We don't watch much television in our household, but my husband and I both find ourselves wed to the computer. I was looking through a photo album with our daughter last week, and we came across one from her infancy. She's swaddled in a pink and white striped blanket, asleep on a pillow between her dad and me. The camera, wielded by my mother, caught both of us on our laptops, typing away. Penny is 4 now, and her teachers tell me that when she sits at the computer in their classroom, she doesn't want to play games like the other kids. She wants to type. Or, as she explains, "I want to work like Mom and Dad."
As of last week, our gadgetry consisted of two laptops, two iPhones, an iPod, an iPod Nano, and an older iPhone that we handed down to our children. Even William, 20 months old, is becoming adept at sliding his thumb across the little screen to navigate toward photographs or games. Our kids will grow up with touchscreens as a cultural assumption, as normal as eating soup with a spoon or driving to the store in a car or sleeping in a bed.
Now we have an iPad. As far as I can tell, it's a big and very impressive iPhone. It's a little heavy, but it moves more quickly than any computer I've ever seen. We watched Lost on it last week. The picture quality was clear. The screen never skipped or froze, as it often does when we watch on a laptop. As a viewing experience, it was great.
Yet I have to wonder: at what cost? Somehow my husband convinced his employer to buy the iPad for him, so we didn't shell out the $499. (Last year, he convinced them to buy him a Kindle, so we have that too.) I still haven't seen his written rationale for the purchase. He tells me the iPad is the wave of the future. He says it will replace laptops and change the way information travels. And he may be right.
But before we ride that wave to wherever it carries us, I want to stop and think about it. Before the invention of the telegraph in the mid-1800s, information could travel only as fast as a human being could deliver it, by horseback or train or foot. Now information travels immediately. I have an iPhone. As a fairly disciplined person, I've found it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to check my e-mail while sitting at a stoplight, waiting to meet a friend for lunch, or even walking across the campus where we live. I wonder how much knowledge of my surroundings I miss every day as a result of my increasing obsession with the screen.
I wonder how much my use of technology inhibits the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I think particularly of the fruit of patience. I wonder how much my iPhone inhibits contemplation and prayer, disciplines of turning my heart towards God and waiting for a response to come. I wonder how much it inhibits submission to God's time. Even the name of all these devices—the emphasis on the individual, the implicit elevation of "I" above all else—gives me pause. Apple's logo, after all, reminds us of Adam and Eve's choice to become like God. Are the iPod, iPhone, and iPad more of the same?
I don't think that using technology is inherently sinful, or that Apple is an evil company, or that I need to rid our household of all these devices. Technology in and of itself is value-neutral. The ways in which we use it are where matters of moral judgment come in. Perhaps I should write a list of rules for myself in how to approach my iPhone, rules for my husband in how to juggle his various iDevices. Rules such as, Keep the phone away from the driver's seat, even when stopped. Or, keep the phone out of the playroom with the kids. Or, never walk and type at the same time. But I'd rather state what I'm for than what I'm against. Walk outside and notice the birds and the trees. Drive with caution out of love for yourself and your neighbor. Be present to your children. And, finally, keep in step with the Spirit of God, not the spirit of the age.