Turning Off Technology: When Is Using Your iPad or Smartphone Unwise?

Almost everyone recognizes the need to balance online and offline life and use technology with a measure of discretion. But implementing this pragmatic goal is easier said than done. As we discussed in my last post, new iPhones, iPads, and other cool technology are so easy to use and helpful in daily life that more and more people never seem to disconnect. So when is using your iPad or other technology not a good idea?

We’ve all seen the scary headlines. Stories like “Woman killed in text messaging accident” grab our attention. In the cyber security business, we call these shocking news stories “FUD”—they affect people by spreading “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.” Texting and driving is now illegal in 35 states and the District of Columbia. It’s probably just a matter of time until all states pass laws on the use of technology while driving.

But despite the risks, many still can’t overcome the temptation to surf the Internet or text while behind the wheel. Americans love to multitask with technology, and scary stories only work on our consciences for so long before we are drawn to other online attractions.

Smartphones in Class – Or Not?

Meanwhile, many schools ban smartphones for fear of students cheating on tests. Administrators claim that leaving technology off is best to remove student temptations (and/or teacher distractions). The “Education Doctor Blog,” from Dr. Meryl Ain, wrote this:

Newsday reports that an Amityville social studies teacher recently asked his 11th graders to use their personal cell phones to text a response to a poll about a presidential speech they had just watched in the classroom. According to the article, this is part of a growing local and national trend.

Many other school districts, however, still bar students from bringing their cell phones and smart phones to school—and for good reason. They have been viewed as a distraction, even a dangerous one. Do we really want students checking their e-mail and texting during class? Do we want them using it to make dates during class, surf their favorite sites on the Web, cheat, or even engage in drug dealing? As much as schools will try to restrict its use in school, some students won’t be able to control themselves.

Office Tech Etiquette

This issue is not just for the younger generation. Many of the same questions come up in the business world around the globe. The BBC asked, “What is the etiquette of mobile phones in meetings?” Here’s an excerpt:

One of David Cameron’s first decrees as PM has been to ban his cabinet ministers from using mobile phones and Blackberrys in meetings. What if your workplace introduced a similar rule?

It’s a divisive move from a united government, to ban Blackberrys and mobiles from meetings. Up and down the land, people will look at the Prime Minister’s example and wonder what might happen if similar rules were introduced in their offices and workplaces.

On the one hand will be the Digi-cons. Quite right, Mr. Cameron, they will say. You cannot have meetings—let alone meetings of people charged with the security and well-being of the nation—interrupted by texting and tweeting, e-mailing and Googling, thumbs cantering across sleek devices, half a dozen terse and fragmentary SMS conversations going on at once.

You need focus. Discipline. Concentrated attention.

What About iPads in Church?

Dr. Mike Wittmer, author of three books and professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, recently wrote two very interesting blogs on the topics of bringing iPads and smartphones to church to read Scripture (rather than your traditional “hardcopy” Bible). He brings up some powerful points and the responses and his posts were thought-provoking and definitely worth reading.

Dr. Wittmer’s two excellent blogs on this topic are called iBible & iBibles Again. Here’s an excerpt from the first one:

…I am not suggesting that there is no place for reading the Bible off a computer or phone screen. I have typed many Scripture passages onto this blog, which I assume were read from a screen. But I do think there is a danger in making our cell phone or Kindle the main way we read the Bible. There are children today who will grow up without ever owning a tangible, bound copy of the Word of God. The only Bible they will ever know will exist in cyberspace, fighting for a place among their other apps. Will these children have a difficult time believing that they are reading the eternal, unchanging Word of God? Will the digital age—and the many useful downloadable Bibles that it produces—inadvertently undermine our understanding of the authority of Scripture?

My response to Dr. Wittmer can be seen after his blog, but I essentially think that the “reading the Bible on an iPad at church” trend will grow as eBooks grow. I also ask this question: “Should a church offer free WiFi for attendees to use more mobile devices for those who don’t have 3G or 4G (cell service)? I suspect this is coming – and will be commonplace in 5-7 years.” I wrote several years ago that we are heading for the virtual “Dick Tracy Watch” with full motion video and any information available on any device at anytime from anywhere. This process is happening faster than I thought.

Any Advice for Faithful Surfing in Cyberspace?

After reading these various viewpoints, perhaps you’re confused. If I think free Wifi and an endless number of opportunities to use mobile devices is here to stay, what advice can I offer?

1) Christians have freedom. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Gal. 5:18) Freedom is not the right to do as one pleases, but the power and capacity both to will and to do as one ought. True freedom is never freedom from responsibility, but responsibility not only for choice, but right choices. Freedom is an inner contentment with who we are in Christ and with what we have. God’s Word (the Bible) should guide us.

2) Take a step back and build a plan. A well-informed conscience will guide us, and different people will have different convictions. Nevertheless, recognizing that lines (or hedges) are needed is important. These lines can be determined by talking to Christian friends, our spouse, or other family members that we trust. Think of this like a New Year’s resolution for technology.

3) Be accountable. Once you’ve created a technology use plan, stick to it!  Make adjustments as needed, but be careful not to change your approach too often on the fly. Aim to build good tech habits that are repeatable.

A final thought: I have found that our prayer life is key to discerning when to disconnect and how to use my time overall. We need to remember that our spiritual battles extend into cyberspace. You may even want to consider a “technology fast” for a day or Lent without using technology in the evenings. While this can be tough to do, one benefit is that you will see if your iPad is an idol of the heart.

What are your thoughts on disconnecting?