Is the iPad the Real American Idol?

I gave my wife Priscilla an iPad for Christmas this year and life will never be quite the same in the Lohrmann household. Yes, she’s owned (and regularly used) desktops, laptops, cellphones and more over the past decade, but this is different—very different. Allow me to explain.

After plenty of research, we decided to buy the iPad 2 WiFi + 3G version, so she could use it easily on the road. Now, she always has it with her. Whether playing music, reading the Bible (at home or in church), visiting friends, driving my daughter back to college (from central Michigan to Chicago), writing her grocery list or looking for a dinner recipe, she’s discovered the meaning of the popular phrase: “There’s an app for that.”

To say that she really likes her iPad would be a vast understatement—like saying Mount Everest in a tall hill.

At work, a similar transformation is occurring. Since the early days of working with (Michigan) Governor Synder’s transition team in 2010, it was clear that iPads were more than a cool new fad, they were the “new normal” in government. Over the past year, I’ve seen the same trend nationwide with businesses, university students, and more jumping on the bandwagon. In fact, the explosion of tablet PCs (including the Kindle Fire and Droid-enabled versions) is starting to create that paperless office we’ve been talking about for decades—with e-books and helpful applications for just about every possible activity.

Meanwhile, the content being offered to us is changing as well. New applications, websites, videos, music and attractive services from Google, Facebook, Twitter and new startup companies continue to raise expectations and possibilities. The dream of any data on any device at anytime from anywhere is slowly becoming a reality.

Context on Virtual Change

As a Chief Security Officer (CSO) for a large enterprise, my team is trying to come to grips with this new world with smartphones, tablet PCs, cloud computing and always-changing technology that is being “enhanced” just as we figure out the previous version. We’re not alone, and the challenges from the “consumerization of IT” can be seen annually at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Amazingly, technology company names are becoming new verbs all over the place with “googling” and “skyping” now a way of life for all of us.

No, this is not an advertisement for Apple or Google or Microsoft or any other technology company. Nor am I setting you up for a big “BUT BE WARNED” or “BEWARE!”

The reality is that I love using state-of-the-art technology, and for the most part, new tech tools and toys have been very helpful in my life. I’ve been labeled “more a technophile than a Luddite” on a few occasions, and I admit that this is true. Like my wife, I have an iPad + blackberry + laptop for government work. While seldom on Facebook, I regularly update my LinkedIn account. I find learning about paradigm-shifting advances in cyberspace to be intriguing, fun, efficient, and necessary for professional growth. I also enjoying sharing ideas online, like writing this blog. My children are growing up with all this stuff and loving each new gadget and innovation as well.

But I’m writing this article because I never cease to be dumbfounded by the extraordinary pace of the technology revolution. Ever since I started to study computer science over 30 years ago in high school, the exponential transformation has been both exciting and scary to me at the same time. (Side note—I love funny videos like this one that describe our modern advances in fun ways.)

Bottom lineour society’s adoption of new technologies has implications for our privacy, security, faith, careers, purity, families, personal interactions, and a host of other topics. So how can we navigate this tough road as we head into 2012 and beyond? Over the next few months, I’d like to offer some specific thoughts in a series of blogs on this topic. I’d like to start with that elusive goal: balance.

Historical Truths

Great church leaders throughout the ages, such as Martin Luther, emphasized both freedom as well as responsibility in living out the Christian faith. In the 21st century, I believe that this means we need to think through the ramifications of online life and intentionally develop habits that can benefit from the virtual opportunities and also withstand the persistent storms ranging in cyberspace.

Over the past few years since I wrote the book Virtual Integrity, I’ve learned that an important aspect to surfing your values is to maintain balanceor keeping priorities straight over time regardless of technology, culture or personal situations that often change.

So what does this look like? How can we “maintain balance” in cyberspace? What about disconnecting? What are the areas that we need to think through regarding Internet and technology adoption? I’d like to address three foundational topics:

  1. Balance of intentions
  2. Balance of possibilities
  3. Balance regarding iPads (or other Internet access device)

These three areas are generally not topics that we think about in detail each day, but it can be helpful to stop and think about each aspect several times a year. Since we are just stating 2012, perhaps now is a good time to discuss this topic with a family member or trusted friend. As you work through these items, think back to what you actually have done online (and with technology) over the past few months, and what you aspire to do in the future.

Three Areas of Balance

Balance in intentions

(Jesus said) “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt 6:21 (NIV)

The first thing we need to examine as we use technology and/or visit cyberspace is our intentions. What do we want to accomplish? Where are we going? Why? How much time do we intend to stay there? Many people think of these topics as “heart issues” or motivations. And yet, do we apply these questions to how we spend our time online?

I know that if my heart is not in the right place, I’m much more susceptible to be tempted to go places or view material that is not good for me or perhaps  not the best use of my time. This is especially hard when I’m tired at the end of a day, and I’m just relaxing.

One time, I was online at home after work but before dinner. I started-off by answering personal emails. Before I knew it, I had spent almost an hour watching NFL.com and ESPN videos about Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.

You might say “what’s wrong with that?” Answer: Sometimes…nothing. But the truth is I should have spent that time getting some chores done or interacting with my children. That poor judgment led to a “mini” argument and problems with family members later that night.

One tip: think through your virtual journey before you go online, just as you think through where you will shop before driving to a mall.

Balance in possibilities

Everything is permissiblebut not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissiblebut not everything is constructive.” 1 Cor. 10:23 (NIV)

The Internet offers an infinite number of possibilities. From sports, to shopping to school work, almost every activity is online. And yet, do we have too many possibilities or connect too often? Is technology crowding out quality time with family or church?

As I describe in detail in my book, web designers have mastered the art of “tempting the click” to get us to go places we never intended to visit when we went online. Perhaps we should limit the possibilities to the areas that we have determined to be most beneficial to our current situation. Using Covenant Eyes is one way to filter content and allow an Accountability Partner(s) to see where you are spending your time online. No doubt, fun and games can be a part of the equation – but we should strive for appropriate balance and not be overcome by the moment.

One tip: Set time limits on web surfing or gameseven for yourself.

One interesting side note: major technology companies are working with the European Community to age-rate the Internet in coming years. I expect this to be extended to the USA. This trend may help Christians and others who want to surf their values with more integrity.

Balance on my iPad (or other device)

(Jesus said) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matt 6:19-20 (NIV)

The question to ask here is do you really need that new device? Is that $5 download really essential? Do you feel required to go from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4s to get the latest features like Siri? Is an annual upgrade required? At times the answer may be yes. Nevertheless, I think many in America fail to realize how buying the latest technology is the new way we “Keep up with the Jones in 2012”especially with the housing market doing so poorly.

We have become a society where people upgrade smartphones and cellphones well before the contract expires, regardless of cost, just because of the cute new color and design of the device. I suppose this isn’t any different from recent fight over new Air Jordan shoes, but I am convicted just thinking about these things after reading Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount. So how much is enough?

One tip: try not to buy on impulse, but discuss purchases with someone you trust first.

In conclusion, I urge readers to take a prayerful look at their online life. Consider how our Jesus’ words pertain to technology and your online life. Think about your use of Facebook, iPhone, YouTube or (fill-in-your-favorite-technology.) Finally, we need to ask hard questions like: Is the iPad the Real American idol?

My answer: Probably, now what can we do about it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the use of technology in your life.