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Managing Technology’s Burdens

Examining Recommendations from John Dyer’s Book “From the Garden to the City”


By Dr. Bryan Smith


Human beings have always had technology. Ever since God told Adam and Eve to rule over His world, we’ve been making and using tools. But over the past three decades, the rate and scale of technological advancement have exploded—in ways that have forced all of us to change how we live. These changes have, without a doubt, made our lives better. Our ability to communicate with others and to educate the next generation has been greatly enhanced.


But the changes have put significant burdens on us too. This is largely due to the fact that whatever technology amplifies, it also numbs. A computer amplifies a student’s ability to perform complex mathematical calculations. But if he isn’t careful, he will lose his ability to do simple arithmetic. Social media amplifies our ability to share our lives with people thousands of miles away. But if we’re not careful, it can keep us from being authentic with the people we see every day.


John Dyer’s From the Garden to the City is the best book I have read on a Christian view of technology. He does an excellent job showing how technology is both a blessing and a burden. Near the end of the book, Dyer gives several recommendations for how believers can maximize technology’s blessings while managing its burdens. The following is a summary of some of his recommendations.1


Valuation

Dyer’s first recommendation is that we take time to evaluate the technologies we use regularly, a process he calls valuation. Technologies have values embedded in them, and these values lead to certain tendencies. To be the masters of our tools, we need to discern these values and tendencies. We then need to ask how these support or hinder biblical values.


Dyer, for example, encourages Christians to evaluate the phone. Phones “value” communication from a distance, according to Dyer. They are useless if we want to speak to someone who is physically present. So, as long as we have our phones in our hands, we feel the pull of connecting with those who are not present. The New Testament, however, values face-to-face connections. God didn’t send a text. He sent His Son to live, teach, and eat with us. Jesus has returned to His Father, but He has not left believers alone. He has given the Holy Spirit to be with them forever.


Phones are helpful because they enable us to connect with people who are far away. But we must guard against letting the phone’s values cause us to devalue face-to-face community. We need to help our students prioritize face-to-face encounters and model for them what it looks like not to let phones distract them from quality conversations.


Experimentation

We won’t be able to do a good job of valuation unless we have used the technology we’re evaluating. That leads me to Dyer’s second recommendation: experimentation. It’s important to experiment with different technologies and document what we learn. Experimentation is especially helpful when comparing technologies.


Dyer describes an experiment he conducted with sources of news. For two weeks, he purchased a newspaper every day. He avoided television, radio, and websites. He got all his news from the paper. Here’s what he learned: “The differences were staggering. I found that I treated news differently when I paid for it and that I was exposed to stories I normally wouldn’t have seen online. I also found it difficult to take a news break at work since everyone could see me pull out the newspaper, whereas no one noticed when I opened up a browser tab to a news website.”2


This kind of experimentation can be assigned to students as a project. Students can choose an activity that can be done using different technologies (e.g., sources of news, ways of communicating with friends, methods of studying for a test). Then, using a handout provided by the teacher, they can document how these technologies differ from one another and how they make different impacts on the user.


Limitation

Valuation and experimentation enable us to understand the blessings and burdens of technology. To ensure that we are maximizing the blessings and managing the burdens, we need to limit our use of technology and encourage our students to do the same. Dyer says this can be viewed as an application of the Bible’s theme of rest. God has woven recurring periods of rest into His creation: nighttime, winter, and the Sabbath. God does expect us to work, but He also expects us to step away from our regular duties from time to time.


Resting from technology is especially important because recent technologies are very powerful. There’s a huge difference between a typewriter and Google or Instagram. If we never step away from these powerful technologies, we will never develop an accurate perspective on them as both blessings and burdens. We also will not be able to recover from the numbing they cause. To overcome the self-absorption caused by social media use, a person has to do without it for a time. To overcome the habit of shallow reading, a person must walk away from Google and read a book.


Togetherness

One of the most damaging values of recent technology is the individualizing of experiences that once were shared with others. Music, school, church, and entertainment—all of these used to be shared experiences. But now, they can be experienced in isolation with a phone and earbuds. This level of isolation has contributed to a “cocooning effect” that leaves our young people feeling less comfortable around others and more inclined toward loneliness and depression.

We need to help our students cultivate the blessing of togetherness. We can do this by encouraging them to decrease their use of technologies that cut them off from other people. It’s possible to listen to music with earbuds, but it’s a richer experience when we listen to music with others. We can watch a movie on our phones, but we get more out of it when we watch a movie with others. We can go to church without leaving our house. But when we do, we are watching a service; we are not experiencing the church. I’m not saying we should tell students to throw away their earbuds. They have their place, but most of us need to reduce the place we give to them.


We also need to encourage our students to develop the habit of using their devices in a public way. It is not a good idea for people to lock themselves in a room for hours with their phones and devices. When people are all alone surfing the internet, interacting on social media, or texting, they end up doing things they would never do in public—things they should not do. Tell your young people that if they need to be on their phones, they should do so with other people around. The presence of others will provide the accountability they need, the accountability we all need.


Toward the end of our race’s first day, God said something we should never forget: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). If that was true in the Garden of Eden before the entrance of sin, how much more is it true at a time when we hold in our hands a window to the entire fallen world?


 

Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for thirty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, Bryan serves as the Director of Biblical Worldview at BJU Press. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.ENDNOTES

1. John Dyer, From the Garden to the City, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2022), 212-216.

2. Ibid., 213.



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