What happens when you use technology without intention? Author, speaker, and Covenant Eyes software developer Doug Smith tackles that question in a recent episode of the Covenant Eyes podcast.
As a software developer, Doug spent time creating marketing technology for Fortune 500 companies. He saw firsthand how technology was being designed for mass consumption, so he was aware of its dangers.
But with the advent of smartphones in 2007, the danger reached a new level. “Things really got amped up when you could carry the internet around in your pocket,” Doug explains. “I was a late adaptor—got my first smartphone in 2010. But I really felt the pull of it then.”
“We’ve all seen restaurants where the family is all sitting around looking at their devices—it’s like they’ve been taken over by a B-grade sci-fi movie!
This realization motivated Doug to dive deep into the research of what screens do to us. His journey resulted in a book, [Un]intentional: How Screens Secretly Shape Your Desires, and How You Can Break Free. It also brought him to Covenant Eyes, where he joined the front line in the fight against pornography.
Here are three key takeaways from Doug’s conversation on our podcast.
Technology is intentional, even if you aren’t.
“Intentionality” forms a central theme of Doug’s research. Why is this? Because tech companies are intentionally fighting for your attention. Social media, video games, and other forms of entertainment were made to keep you clicking, playing, or watching for as long as possible.
If we approach technology unintentionally, the tech company’s intentions will take over. When we absent-mindedly open an app and start scrolling, it’s designed to keep us scrolling for as long as possible.
The CEO of a popular streaming service has said that since we’ve utilized all our waking hours, his company is now competing with sleep for our time. This is done through the design of features like auto-play, which eliminates your need to choose to keep watching. Unless you make a conscious choice to stop, your binge will continue endlessly.
This absent-minded approach to technology not only leads to time-wasting, but it can lead to unintentional porn exposure as well. Seemingly harmless social media and streaming sites are a major trigger for many people. This is no accident. Porn websites intentionally take advantage of our absent-minded browsing habits to lure us into their spaces.
Technology shapes your brain.
“Today’s screen tech isn’t like other technology,” says Doug. “It’s not just like the printing press. The printing press wasn’t intentionally designed to exploit your psychology.”
Studies now show that our technology not only influences the way we think—it actually changes our brains. This is especially true for kids, teens, and young adults whose brains haven’t yet matured fully. Doug explains:
“Before technology, what did we want kids to be doing? Learning languages. Learning instruments. Why? Because as kids it’s easier to learn these things. When you’re a teenager you begin synaptic pruning, so our brains start trimming back and optimizing for the things that we’ll do for the rest of our lives. So people who are really good at sports get even better –but they probably won’t pick up the violin. The violinist probably won’t become really good at basketball. This is all natural and God-given.”
Unfortunately, when people grow up glued to screens, their brains are wired around that experience. “They’re being optimized for pleasure, for the quick fix,” says Doug. Brain scans now reveal how screens are affecting us physically, creating neurological patterns similar to those of drug and alcohol addiction.
We’ve written extensively about how pornography affects your brain. This is true both for kids and adults. Technology has the power to reshape our minds.
Technology competes with God’s Word.
Technology is designed to consume our hearts. It targets children, shaping their brains from a young age. It occupies our commutes. It distracts us from sleeping at night. It’s always at hand, flashing and beeping to remind us to give it our attention. Technology leaves us with a choice: do we unintentionally allow it to consume us, or do we intentionally immerse ourselves in something else?
Doug cites Deuteronomy 6:6-9 as the Bible’s alternative to technological immersion:
These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.
“It’s the idea of immersion into God’s truth,” continues Doug. “We’ve got to understand what the industry is doing—they’re immersing us. What are they doing when we’re getting up, when we’re driving, going about our lives? They’re being intentional. And that’s what we need to do. Deuteronomy 6 is about doing the thing. Put this into practice.”