The McMillans are an unmarried couple, raising a boy and a girl. That’s not unusual in today’s culture. But here’s what is unusual: they use no technology that was invented after 1986. They have phones but no smartphones, videos but no DVDs, photos but no Instagrams, TV but no cable. They bank in person and read paper books. The reason? They decided that technology was cheating their children of their childhoods. Why 1986? Because that’s the year they were born.
I’m glad Janet didn’t ask me to make the same decision. Since we were born in 1958, I’d be typing this Cultural Commentary on a manual typewriter and mailing it to you in an envelope with a stamp. Each morning’s essay would cost $38,250 to deliver, or $9.5 million a year in postage, and would be out of date when it arrived. The Internet can be a very good thing.
Unless you’re hacked on it. A technology expert named Mat Honan recently had his Google account deleted, his Twitter account compromised, and all the data on his iPhone, iPad and MacBook erased. It turns out the hackers were able to use his Apple and Amazon accounts to get to the rest of his technology.
One solution is to leave the Internet entirely. A year ago, a technology writer named Paul Miller embarked on a “digital sabbatical.” He intended to spend the year reading the best books, working on his own novel, and generally finding himself.
A year later, he returned to the Internet. His sabbatical was not as successful as he had hoped. It began well—he wrote half his novel, read Greek literature, and had deep conversations with his sister. But he discovered that physical mail can be as overwhelming as email and video games can consume as much time as Web surfing. What he was seeking was no more available off line than on.
He’s right. Depression rates have more than doubled in recent years, while anxiety rates have doubled in the last 30 years among teenagers. The technology revolution has changed how we communicate, but not who we are. There’s still a God-shaped emptiness in each of us, as Pascal noted. And we’re still tempted to fill that emptiness with everything but him.
Novelist Henry Miller: “Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.” Movie director Stanley Kubrick claimed, “however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Jesus disagrees, claiming that “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5). He calls us to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) by reflecting his light as the moon reflects the sun. Of course, as our world can cause an eclipse of the moon, so it can cause an eclipse of the soul. When it gets between us and the Source of our light, it leaves us and our culture in darkness. But when we focus fully on Jesus, we reveal him to those who deserve to see his love in ours.
The old hymn said it well: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”