Wisdomfest 2019: Lonely with Technology
Morning church. Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for this morning and for your word and the fact that we can be here together praising you and learning from it. Lord, you tell us in Scripture that you word doesn’t return void, that it’s sharp, that it divides marrow from bone. And Lord, we ask that you would do that work. Holy Spirit, do that work as we turn to Scripture today and help us see what you would have us learn from this. We ask these things in your name, amen.
When you’re in the middle of baking something and unexpectedly find that you have run out of ingredients, or if you get a call from a friend who tells you that they’re going to come over in a couple of hours and you realize you haven’t got exactly what you need to prepare a meal for them, and it’s raining outside and the kids are a little restless, don’t worry because Walmart has you covered. The Walmart grocery app is for you. Their ad campaign used famous cars from TV and the movies to highlight the magic moment of the grocery pick-up experience when a Walmart associate loads the groceries you ordered online into your car.
Question: is using technology like this helpful or harmful? When we think about banking now, we can deposit a check simply by scanning it on our phone. We don’t have to go into a branch. We don’t have to engage with somebody behind the desk. We can just do it all in total isolation. Helpful or harmful, when we think about technology? And now what we have is the ability to dialogue with doctors over screen share where we can, instead of going into a waiting room, instead of going physically into a doctor’s office, we can dial somebody up (somebody we don’t necessarily know) and have a face-to-face meeting with them over the computer. Is that helpful or harmful when we think about technology?
The quick answer is it’s both. All of these instances involve technological advancement that meet every day needs very, very helpfully. But at a deeper level, they represent a marginalizing, a minimizing of human connection. They’re in a way like medication, where it can be incredibly helpful to relieve a situation, but on the other hand can cause addiction and can really create problems if we’re not aware of that. We can see missionary reports about what the church is doing and how we’re helping missionaries in India and globally around the world expand the kingdom of heaven through technology.
On the other hand, when you get online, you can tap into some of the most vile cesspools that man could ever think of. And so while some technology is designed specifically to connect people in super helpful ways, other platforms are designed to distract and entice, quickly lead to dependence, isolation, and loneliness.
Stephen Marche, a writer for The Atlantic, in his article “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” says this:
“We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment. Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information.”
Today we’re looking at the cause, the consequences, and the cure for loneliness with technology. And in prepping for this message, I had a chance to connect with a group of our college students, and it was wonderful hearing their takes on it. One young lady who’s actually ministering right now in Asia at a Sunday school camp, helping out there, she said:
“It’s ironic. I’m anticipating missing my church and won’t be surprised if I’m a little lonely. I’m planning on listening to these messages via the Internet, using technology, while missing home, to make me feel even more connected.”
So you’ve got a real spectrum there, a real mixture of the advantages of technology. Others in the group said technology is neutral. They viewed it as neutral like a hammer. I can be incredibly productive with a hammer — I can create, I can build. I can also destroy. I can throw it through a plate glass window and create havoc.
So there’s nothing wrong with technology in and of itself; it’s neutral. It’s what happens when we get our hands on it, it’s what it can lead to, where the problems really get created. And thinking about the Walmart situation, there’s nothing wrong with ordering groceries online, but you’ve got to make sure that you don’t trade away that personal connection.
I saw this firsthand before we moved across from California to South Carolina about a year and a half ago. I went in to Safeway. Safeway is a store, it’s a grocery store like Ingles. I went into Safeway, I was in the self-checkout line. I only had to grab a couple of things, I was not in the mood to stand and talk to anybody. I just wanted to get in, get out, and get home. I’m in the line and I’d already been waiting for at least a solid 18 seconds and we could see that the guy in front, about two people in front of us, had forgotten his wallet and it was just going from bad to worse. And I spotted a checkout line opening up down the far end of the store, so I hoofed it down there. I was going to be the first in line.
It was 4:50 in the evening. 5:00 is the shift for these people to get off, and I scooted around, and I said, “Hey, Pat, how’s your day going?” And she sighed as she started zipping these groceries through, and she said, “It’s fine.” I said, “I suppose you’re just about done for the day.” And she said, “Yeah, and then my real work begins.” I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Well, two months ago my mother was diagnosed with double breast cancer. One month ago she moved in home with me, and two weeks ago we started chemo, and I’m up all night with her. I am exhausted, I’m fatigued, and I feel dead on my feet.”
And so for a year as I went to that store, I made a point, anytime I saw Pat working at the checkout, I made a point of going through that aisle. But that never would have happened if I hadn’t have just taken the time to find out a little bit about her first. And believe me it wasn’t intentional, I’ll confess that. It was not intentional, but it showed me how much we miss out on these valuable connections.
We now have the capacity to remain informed and up-to-date and knowledgeable about everything and everyone. But remember Marche’s last point: we were going to get one thing but got another. We were promised something great but instead got a dud. Where have we seen that before? What comes to mind when we think about that from Scripture? And immediately everybody will say, of course, it’s Genesis 3, and your right. It’s Genesis 3, so we’re going to turn there now. It is on page two of your Bible, and we’re going to take a look at Genesis 3. The cause of loneliness from technology. Adam and Eve are living in paradise and perfection. They have it all, but it’s not enough. And we read this:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”‘ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
And so we see language here getting twisted. It gets twisted to appeal. God had definitely said they’d die. But Satan essentially said, “That’s not what God really means; that’s not what He is really saying.” So we need to be aware of this twisting of language. And then Eve decides to stop trusting God. Once she hears that, the focus goes on herself. Self-sufficiency promotes having it all at the expense of transparent relationships. And we see this downgrading, this response that she has. She sees that the tree was good for food, which is the lust of the flesh. I see it, I can touch it, I want it now, and I’m going to have it now. Immediate!
But then she goes further. She saw that it was a delight to the eyes. She saw something and coveted it. At that moment, although it was out of her reach, she wanted it and started scheming about how to get it. This is the lust of the eyes.
And finally she saw the tree was designed to make one wise, as wise as God. The thinking was, I want the influence, I want the power, I want to be like God, I want to be the smartest person in the room, someone known and important. This the pride of life, and from this it’s necessary to see the escalation. She wants to have immediately what she can sense, what she can take in — the pride of the flesh, the lust of the flesh. She then goes further than that and sees that it’s good. So we have the lust of the eyes escalating it, and then she wants to be as wise as God. She wants to be on his level. And there’s this escalation from flesh to eyes to wise as God. And it’s important to remember that as we work on through.
But Scripture clearly warns about adopting such an approach. John talks about the aspects of worldliness in 1 John 2:15-16 where he says,
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not from the Father but from the world.”
And so when we look at Eve’s steps closely, in light of technology, you’re going to identify the very same issues. Think about these steps as we work through them and relate them to technology platforms today — be it Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder. Read these as we go through. Eve was unaware of exactly who was influencing her or his motives but listened anyway. She didn’t fully understand who she was listening to.
Next, she didn’t trust God who provided her the initial true information. She was encouraged to change her perspective to something that suited her interests better, and she did. She was enticed by the seeming grandeur of what she could have and be and lost perspective on the wonderful life and relationships she actually already had. And finally, after becoming stunted physically, emotionally, and spiritually, she was complicit in inciting her immediate community to follow her example. In this case, it was Adam. Do you see the path that Eve takes?
It’s exactly what is happening within our culture today regarding technology. We listen to people that we don’t know. We listen to what they propose, to what they advocate. And this then just escalates into wanting more, more, more. And it hasn’t changed since Eve. It hasn’t changed. In fact, we see it not long after that time in Genesis 11 where we read about Noah’s account and then the generations after Noah. And then immediately we come to the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and we see a culture inclined immediately to try and build a tower to the sky.
It’s the very first thing we see. The human heart again, now on a cultural level, “Let’s go to the top! Let’s be brilliant!” So nothing’s changed. Just like the serpent tempting Eve, our culture tells us we can have anything we can touch, that it’s okay to covet, and that we should want to be the most enlightened, influential people. But it comes with a price. It comes with consequences. It leads to isolation. It leads to loneliness. It leads to hardship as a culture, this escalation and this pursuit. And so there is the cause. There is the cause, same as Genesis 3.
But now we get to the consequences. We are going to come to the cure, but we’ve got to get to the consequences right now. And to learn what happens when we pursue everything we want, we look to the second wisest guy to ever walk the planet, Solomon. And here’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 1:
“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there is there a thing of which is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” And then in verse 18, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
The constant pursuit of knowledge is fatiguing, and we have seen that in our culture. People are tired, they are worn out, and yet they still can’t stop partaking. From 2013 to 2015 more data was created than in the entire previous history of humanity. The pace is only accelerating over these last four years. Trying to keep up with new information is wearing, and it’s isolating. We don’t notice it as much until we actually slow down to observe. And when you walk into a Starbucks or a coffee shop, you’ll see it today. Four people will walk in together, but they’ll sit down at the same table, and then everybody takes out their phone. And they sit, and they’re scrolling and scrolling, thinking it’s community. But you just have four individuals together. That’s all that’s being achieved there.
One of the byproducts of our culture, one of the byproducts of technology is it’s teaching us more and more to concentrate less and less, and we are suffering from that. Relationships are shallow. You see now families coming into restaurants where, instead of picking up the menu to start looking, the first thing they do is take out a little play laptop and hand it to the two children as a form of taking care of them, as a form of babysitting them or having them babysat, while the adults get into dialogue.
People are discontent. They are dissatisfied and disappointed. And if you’re wondering where the example of the children is going, last year the World Health Organization classified a new disease: video gaming disorder. It takes a lot to get World Health to classify anything, but they classified video gaming disorder. The symptoms being withdrawal when not playing games, a tolerance for gaming so that a person needs to spend more time playing to be satisfied (i.e. addiction), at least one failed attempt to stop or cut back on playing games, and a loss of interest in other life activities.
Brian Primack, the director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, did an extensive study and found that people who check social media the most frequently had nearly 3 times the likelihood of depression compared with those who checked it least frequently. Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers on social media cause feelings of envy and led to distorted beliefs that others lead happier, more successful lives.
Today we can connect to technology so easily, comfortably, and alone but with zero accountability. On this phone here, I can face time my parents in New Zealand, I can find out what the weather’s like in New Zealand, I can find out the latest score from the World Cup Cricket that New Zealand’s playing in today, I can check my LinkedIn feedback, I can check my Facebook page, I can build a YouTube channel.
Why do I need to connect with you? I don’t have to be the center of the universe; I just have to be the center of mine. And you shouldn’t have a problem with it because I’d encourage you to be the center of yours, and for you to be the center of yours, and for you to be the center of yours, and we’ll all be the center of our own universe. That’s what’s going on, and we’re wondering why we’re reaping these consequences. Proverbs 18:1, Solomon writes again,
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.”
And he tells us right here, don’t do this. There are two steps here. If you do this, you’re going to be on your own. But you’re not going to be on your own thinking great thoughts, you’re going to be on your own and then regress to just going against what everybody else is saying. In the very next verse he says,
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinions.”
Social media 101. These verses are perfectly applicable today. Building deep relationships takes time, takes effort. And sadly many people have traded the depth and time factors needed to form quality relationships for goofy cat videos. We’ve become a culture that’s confused substance for notoriety. We’ve mixed it up. We call it progress. We substitute real relationship with people for mere commentary on other’s lives, and this commercial sums it up beautifully:
“I read an article (well I read the majority of an article) online about how older people are becoming more and more anti-social. So I was really aggressive with my parents about joining Facebook. My parents are up to 19 friends now. I have 687 friends, this is living. What? That is not a real puppy. That’s too small to be a real puppy.”
It’s humorous, I get it. It’s what’s happening, where you see real community — the parents are building the real community. The parents are out having a fun, great time. The child’s lonely, thinking she’s got a wonderful life. It takes work to build community.
Trevor Haines, with some of the research he’s done, mentions about the fact that we have the potential to have three billion connections. But we’re simply not made to have that many. We really can’t go past 150 realistically, but we can hook into social media and other platforms out there, and very quickly we’re on that pathway where we’re channeling into three billion people. We can literally become addicted to social media.
When we experience positive social interaction such as being recognized by a friend, or laughter, or receiving compliments, we get this hit of dopamine in our brain. And dopamine, it is generated when there’s a positive experience. It’s the part of our brain that says, “I want more of that! That was good, give me more!” In the very same way, dopamine is released when we see these kinds of things on our social media feeds. And so we’re wondering how we get hooked.
You must understand that the media platforms recognize this. These companies aren’t silly. And so while I’m not declaring a war on technology firms, you do need to be aware of some of the ways they operate. They know this. And so very easily we become manipulated, feeling the sense of satisfaction when we see these rewards that are designed to take advantage of our physiological being. They keep us engaged as long as possible, purposefully making people become habitual users with the same impact of illicit and addictive drugs. So we use a word like “tribe,” “friends,” “community,” and it sounds good. It sounds good but remember Genesis 3: “God didn’t really mean it.” It’s that twisting that takes place.
Our son who was working at Facebook over two years was telling us that you must understand, if you’re on a social media platform, and it’s free, you’re the product. You’re the product. That’s how valuable we are. Access to us is hugely costly, hugely valuable. And so we want to take stock of that. The depression and anxiety that’s caused when we see other people’s highlight reels, it diminishes people. It gives them a feeling of emptiness, of always struggling to get up there.
As a financial advisor and somebody working in this space, I find it ironic that the five largest tech companies are represented by the acronym “FAANG” — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google. They are known on Wall Street as the FAANG stocks. And I find it interesting, because when you think of fangs, they get in and they stay. They’re hard to get out. They inject something into you immediately, and it’s tough to break away from them. That’s what we know them as.
So what are we to do with this as the world keeps advocating more connectedness? We’ve seen the cause of it and the consequences, so let’s look at the cure. Because the cure for loneliness doesn’t begin with more technology, but instead begins with Scripture. It begins with Scripture. Fortunately, the cure for loneliness is never going to change, just like the cause of it. Remember why we were created. We were created to be in close relationship with God and then to love others. Mark 12:30 says,
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind with all your strength.” And then Jesus follows this up in the next verse saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And you can’t do that if you stay isolated. This is a command for us. On the other hand, technology, the greatest thing that it offers to us is to have us constantly on the go; to have us just running and running and running.
And technology is so invasive and yet you think of the Lord who regards and respects our privacy. We’ve been hearing from Revelation; Peter’s been preaching through Revelation. In Revelation 3 we hear Jesus standing at the door and knocking. He doesn’t kick it down, he doesn’t push it in, he knocks. You think Facetime is impressive, we think these platforms are impressive, we’ve got the living God saying, “I stand at the door. [knocking] I want to face time one-on-one.”
Moses says in Psalm 90:10-12,
“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
We are accountable to God to prioritize our time and prioritize our actions. Moses probably didn’t realize it when he was writing that psalm, but he became the first time-management guy. And all the stuff that we see in bookstores about self-help and topics like that, they’re plagiarism from Scripture. This is the Word of God, the absolute truth. And so when you think about prioritization, Moses makes it really clear.
“Teach us to number our days that we may grow a heart of wisdom.”
It doesn’t get more specific than that. So I want to encourage you as we close with a couple of ideas that I personally have found very helpful and some of the things our life group is doing. I have an app on my phone, it’s a time blocking app. I set it for 25 minutes on, five minutes off. 25 minutes I’m working, I am not listening to anything else, I’m not taking calls, I’m not answering email, nothing. One thing in front of me. Five minutes off, I pray for our faith group/life group, pray for my wife, pray for our home, pray for our church. And it’s interesting because originally, I set the first minute to just be praying … five minutes in prayer, and then it’s like “Ugh! I’ve got to get back to work!” But you start assembling your day like that. It takes time and don’t get frustrated when it doesn’t happen perfectly over a couple of hours. It takes time, but I want to encourage you to pursue it.
Paul writes in Romans about developing transformational thinking. “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Paul’s talking about the focus on how we think, what we’re permitting our eyes to focus on. He talks about developing boundaries. Again Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:12,
“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” The Corinthians had all sorts of issues going on, and what Paul’s saying is “Hey, don’t let this dominate you; don’t let it impact you.” Resolutely decide. I want to encourage you to do a tech audit. When a dietician does a dietary audit, they have you write down and record every single thing you’re going to eat over that week. Do a tech audit. What have you let your eyes watch over the last week? What are you permitting your family to sit down in front of? What are you permitting to drift through on this and just get used to seeing it without rejecting it? So I encourage you to do a technology audit on your lives, developing boundaries. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul again writes, “All things are lawful for me … ” I’m sorry. That’s the one we just read. So as far as being very focused on what you need to do, appreciate your time and that it belongs to the Lord and how you are going to spend it.
Next is to develop accountability. This is a large church, which we love! We loved when we joined this church! North Hills is about 3000 people. It’s too big to get to know everybody on a Sunday morning. You can dial into maybe half a dozen, maybe a dozen people, and find out a little bit about them. That’s why we have life groups. So yes, so we go down from life groups — from the 3000 down to a life group of maybe eight to nine people — and we joined one. We are part of the Middleton and Southerland’s home group and it’s a blast, and we’re getting to know people. But then even though we’ve got 8-12 people in that group, Billy and I will meet on a Friday morning and just talk, we’ve been working through a book together, and just talk about what’s going on spiritually in our lives. Is it easy to do? It takes time. Billy’s got his own business. I’ve got my own business. It’s not just going to happen without being deliberate. And so we make time to meet with each other and be accountable.
We have a texting group with our men in our life group and when somebody texts out a verse for the day, and we get into it, and all through the day we’re providing feedback about what this verse means, and we’re encouraging each other. And we send great cat videos to each other. We don’t. We don’t send cat videos. But we’ve got to develop discernment as well.
“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful … not all things build up.” And what Paul is saying is, “Hey, while there might be some things that are maybe acceptable, are they really, really helpful? Do you really want to be spending your time there? Do you really need to be looking at that?” He talks about self-control.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Contentment doesn’t come immediately. It doesn’t come immediately, it takes time. It takes time to get satisfied with what we’ve got, to thank the Lord for it, and live through it.
But where our world goes big, bigger, biggest, and out, God flips that. God flips that. We think we’re doing well when we get up to global. God starts at global. God creates global. God goes worldwide long before the web ever came around. And where man wants to escalate, God flips it, and God comes down. God comes down. “For God so loved the world” … that’s where he’s starting that he gives “his only Son that whosoever.” God starts global and then comes down to the individual. What does it cost him? He’s not going to try and ramp up “likes” and build up a following, or watching, or numbers, or anything like that. It’s just going to cost him his son. That’s what he’s going to pay.
You heard me share earlier how incredibly valuable we are to these tech companies, but we lose sight of how valuable we are to God. Because it cost him his Son. It cost him Jesus Christ to make a way back for us. So don’t trade away or underestimate your value but understand where it comes from. It’s valuable because, only because, of what God has paid for it. He set the value and he’s redeeming it all the time. It doesn’t get more intimate than that. It doesn’t get more precious than that. People binge watch in isolation and come out fatigued, and Jesus says, “I’ve come to give you rest.” I’ve come to give you rest.
We’re scrambling to keep up and avoid looking uninformed, not knowledgeable or up to date, and all it leads to is restlessness. But Jesus is coming from John 14:27,
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”
I do not give peace that the world gives, I define peace I give. And so often we can miss out on that. We can be so busy scrolling this and this and this that we fail to hear [knocking]. Wait a minute! [knocking] We can miss it. So take stock as we leave, later on today, of your tech habits. Understand how to be responsible for your time.
And shortly, as we close, I want to give you the opportunity to respond to what we’ve spoken about here today, to think about it. To think about habits that you have, ways that you view time. We are going to account for our time. There is much frivolous activity that can happen like that, and we build a habit subtly. We don’t want to go down that track.
We serve a risen Savior that says, “take stock of your days, take stock of your time.” Let’s pray.