Technology & Multitasking: Towards a Thoughtful Christian Consumption

24 thoughts on “Technology & Multitasking: Towards a Thoughtful Christian Consumption”

  1. p.s. I’m not asking for a general prescription (unless you’ve got one figured out), just a description of your own practice.

  2. I suppose how we define “work” on the Sabbath is derivative of what our vocation is during the week. So, for instance, the person who chops wood for a living would be working on the Sabbath if he spent it chopping wood. But the person who bakes bread during the week might not be working if he chopped wood on the Sabbath, especially if it brought great joy to him. (Yes, I am thinking of Robert Frost’s poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time.”)

    I think the important aspect of keeping the Sabbath is that we are actually setting that time aside for God. It’s quite freeing not to have the guilt of work looming over our shoulder as so often happens when we procrastinate. Instead, we have set a boundary on how much work we will do, and the remainder is set aside for worshipful rest. What we do with that time could vary widely: serving others, meditating, spending it in community. I would suggest that it is the attitude of our heart that matters most.

    For me, since I am a student, schoolwork is out. But I do sometimes take the opportunity to read other books that I can’t find the time to read during the week. It can also be wonderful to spend the day in community, meeting up with folks after church. And one of my favorite Sabbath-keeping activities is taking hikes in Tilden or Wildcat Canyon parks.

  3. From “The End of Solitude” (William Deresiewicz):

    Young people today seem to have no desire for solitude, have never heard of it, can’t imagine why it would be worth having. In fact, their use of technology — or to be fair, our use of technology — seems to involve a constant effort to stave off the possibility of solitude, a continuous attempt, as we sit alone at our computers, to maintain the imaginative presence of others. As long ago as 1952, Trilling wrote about “the modern fear of being cut off from the social group even for a moment.” Now we have equipped ourselves with the means to prevent that fear from ever being realized. Which does not mean that we have put it to rest. Quite the contrary. Remember my student, who couldn’t even write a paper by herself. The more we keep aloneness at bay, the less are we able to deal with it and the more terrifying it gets.

    There is an analogy, it seems to me, with the previous generation’s experience of boredom. The two emotions, loneliness and boredom, are closely allied. They are also both characteristically modern. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citations of either word, at least in the contemporary sense, date from the 19th century. Suburbanization, by eliminating the stimulation as well as the sociability of urban or traditional village life, exacerbated the tendency to both. But the great age of boredom, I believe, came in with television, precisely because television was designed to palliate that feeling. Boredom is not a necessary consequence of having nothing to do, it is only the negative experience of that state. Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one’s lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. In fact, it renders that condition fearsome, its prospect intolerable. You are terrified of being bored — so you turn on the television.

    I speak from experience. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, the age of television. I was trained to be bored; boredom was cultivated within me like a precious crop. (It has been said that consumer society wants to condition us to feel bored, since boredom creates a market for stimulation.) It took me years to discover — and my nervous system will never fully adjust to this idea; I still have to fight against boredom, am permanently damaged in this respect — that having nothing to do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The alternative to boredom is what Whitman called idleness: a passive receptivity to the world.

    So it is with the current generation’s experience of being alone. That is precisely the recognition implicit in the idea of solitude, which is to loneliness what idleness is to boredom. Loneliness is not the absence of company, it is grief over that absence. The lost sheep is lonely; the shepherd is not lonely. But the Internet is as powerful a machine for the production of loneliness as television is for the manufacture of boredom. If six hours of television a day creates the aptitude for boredom, the inability to sit still, a hundred text messages a day creates the aptitude for loneliness, the inability to be by yourself. Some degree of boredom and loneliness is to be expected, especially among young people, given the way our human environment has been attenuated. But technology amplifies those tendencies. You could call your schoolmates when I was a teenager, but you couldn’t call them 100 times a day. You could get together with your friends when I was in college, but you couldn’t always get together with them when you wanted to, for the simple reason that you couldn’t always find them. If boredom is the great emotion of the TV generation, loneliness is the great emotion of the Web generation. We lost the ability to be still, our capacity for idleness. They have lost the ability to be alone, their capacity for solitude.

  4. Thanks, Clara. Another friend of mine (thanks, Liz) also sent me this article, and I think William Deresiewicz does an excellent job diagnosing a serious problem. But I think he leaves two important questions unanswered: Why, at a deep level, are we so afraid to be alone? And what can we do about this problem?

    (I hope the situation is not quite as bleak as Mr. Deresiewicz thinks it is: “Still, one is powerless to reverse the drift of the culture. One can only save oneself — and whatever else happens, one can still always do that.”)

    I think both questions are connected, and the latter is perhaps particularly pressing for those who may be teaching the students of this generation one day. (I realize these are both big questions and raise them more as something to think about. Of course, if you have ideas, please do share them!)

  5. John, a very enjoyable examination and exhortation. In particular, the observation about the way technology use affects relationships. If our relationship isn’t working out in 5 minutes, we move on. Getting a different relationship is reduced to changing channels essentially. All of life then, is reduced to, essentially, changing channels. Which stands in stark contrast to the God who said of himself, “I am”. In turning from mere consumeristic “channel changing” lifestyles, we turn to an unchanging God who calls us to be unchanging. A very difficult, if not impossible, task that is set before fickle and wayward human beings.

  6. The classic clash between an unchanging gospel and God,and the changing times,is what we are confronted with here.We may wish to consider that the train,car and later the television, were in turn considered to be spawns of Satan,specifically sent to drive a wedge between man and God.In turn,each prediction was proven to be too dire,pessimistic.Now,it seems,it is the turn of the internet,electronic age.
    I think the important thing is that we never allow anything to supersede God,and become the ‘god’ in our lives,attaining an ascendancy over God.


  7. I would say that Christians should observe the Sabbath just as they should tithe. I think these commands are guidelines for God-centered living, helpful yardsticks by which to test the desires of our hearts. Keeping the Sabbath does not make us “right,” but a consistent failure to do so means there is a good chance we are not devoting our lives to the Kingdom of God. I don’t think the failure to keep the Sabbath is necessarily sinful, but I think the reasons why we do not keep the Sabbath almost always are (e.g., idolatry, lack of trust).

    Christ said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath was intended to be a gift to man from God: a gift of rest, a preview of God’s eternal rest (Heb. 4:9). The Sabbath is for our good, and we are hurting ourselves, God, and our neighbors by not observing it.

  8. John
    I am not quite sure I agree with you.An important hermeneutic principle is involved here.Can an OT injunction,specifically and mandatorily binding on OT Jews,be binding on NT Jews and ‘Gentiles’?

    I believe that as a general principle relating to our conduct,the coming of Christ has opened a away for all,including the ingrafted branches,to relate to God.This new way is not by means of hundreds of rules and regulations,but by faith in the birth,death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    By this,the Sabbath,or the tithe,are by no means any longer mandatory for Christians.However,in the context of your article,the observance on a regular basis of a time of rest in our frenzied,multitasking world,certainly is advisable.But it is not by any means mandatory on 21st century Christians to observe the Sabbath in the fashion and with the same motivation as OT Jews.

  9. Tunji, you misunderstand me. I did not say either of these commands was “mandatory.” I do say that if a modern Christian is not tithing or is not keeping the Sabbath, chances are good that his priorities are not in order. He has most likely made an idol out of the success he finds in his work or his wealth. He has also probably failed to love God with all of his heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27) and, as a result, he is not loving his neighbor as he should. A failure to tithe or observe the Sabbath merely makes it very likely that he is sinning.

  10. John, are there other elements of mosaic law besides tithing and sabbath-observance you consider not incumbent upon Christians but indicative of their spiritual health?

  11. It might be going to too far to say that I don’t think these commands are incumbent upon Christians. Jesus tells us that all the law and the prophets hang on two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). I think both tithing and keeping the Sabbath almost always hang on these commands, as does the rest of the Old Testament moral law. Of course, there might be examples where they do not, but I think these are rare exceptions. Nevertheless, as Paul tells us, Christ set us free so that we would no longer be under the burden of the law (Gal. 5:1). Instead, we live by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Yet I think the Spirit directs us to obey these commands.

    In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ explains that the law is much more than the Jewish teachers understood it to be: murder means more than killing; adultery more than sex with the neighbor’s spouse; etc. In fact, Christ made it clear that the law was much more than the Jewish leaders thought: the law’s demands were so extreme that no mere human could fulfill them. All would fail and thus none could be saved by the law. This fact is why we must look to Christ. Yet Christ is clear that the moral law has not been abolished: he told his audience, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18).

    But Paul tells us that the law itself only has the power to condemn (e.g., Rom. 7:13). In contrast, it is the Spirit that gives the power of life (Rom. 8:1-4). The law still has the power to reveal sin, but this fact does not change the truth that life comes only through grace by God’s Spirit.

  12. John
    You do sound self contradictory.
    On the one hand you affirm that these OT commands are incumbent on NT Christians.On the other hand you affirm that Christ has made a new way for us to relate to God.I don’t think you can have it both ways,sir.
    Please note however that both Covenants have the same basic requirement of Man-faith.

  13. I believe sabbath-observance is a moral law for at least two reasons. First, because it’s one of the Ten Commandments, and I think they are all intended to be moral laws. Second, because the commandment is not merely about observing some sort of ritual. God makes it clear why the command is important: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:12-15). The day is a day to devoted to God, and it’s a day to give rest to servants, employees, livestock, etc. Thus, the act of Sabbath is a moral act of worship in the same way that treating God’s name with respect is an act of worship. And providing rest to those who work under us is part of loving our neighbors as ourselves (and part of loving God).

    Tunji, I do not understand you. There is nothing contradictory about these two propositions.

  14. John
    Please note my comments
    1 ‘Incumbency’ suggests those things that we should do but which are not necessarily mandatory.You have indeed clarified that you do not consider these old Testament injunctions to be mandatory.

    2 The problem is this it is difficult to pick and choose those aspects of the OT that we consider to be incumbent and those that are not if we consider some of them to be incumbent on us today.For example are those with infectious skin disease to go and show themselves to the priest? Are those with such infections to carry a placard which proclaims they are ‘unclean’.Quite rightly we do not do these things these days.

    3 You note correctly that the spirit in which the life of the NT is to be lived is radically different from that of the OT.Instead of a litany of commands quite impossible of achievement,it is the heart that God searches for,as a barometer of our faith in Him.

    4 Let us take the tithe which you say is incumbent on us today.Are we to pay a mathematical percentage of our earnings to the Church or to the priest? What of our non cash earnings?
    Clearly the test of our fidelity to God is not whether we pay the exact % of earnings(net or gross?) but that we set aside a part of earnings depending on the strength of our conviction,for the Kingdom work.And this we will do willingly,if we acknowledge that it is God,in the first place,who gives us the power to make money,

    5 Look at the Sabbath.There was the case of the Olympic champion in an early 1920s Olympic contest who refused to compete,because the race fell on Sunday, the Sabbath day. He was zealous but quite misguided,and lost the medal for nothing.

    John,to today’s believer the way of the Cross is quite different from the earlier OT way.

  15. Yes, John, but: Don’t know if it’s an Australian thing or what, but clearly multitasking alone does not put one in the position of Martha.

    Tunji, I think you do not have all the facts about Eric Liddell in the 1924 Olympics. But even if we stick with what you’re saying, what Liddell did was not “for nothing” any more than winning a medal is “for something.”

  16. Cliff, I think the behavior described in the Daily Mail article is closer to periodically resting than it is to multitasking. I’m not surprised to find that workers who take periodic breaks are more productive than those who don’t. And the study’s author does note: “Those who behave with Internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without.” Those folks are the multitaskers.

    Tunji, consider these two questions: Why don’t we keep the Sabbath? Why don’t we tithe?

  17. Chris

    You may wish to consider these 2 quotations:
    1 Wikipedia:
    ” Liddell was a committed Christian and refused to run on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath),with the consequence that he was forced to withdraw from the 100 metres race,his best event. The schedule had been published months before,and his decision was made well before the games began’.
    “Being a godly man he dedicated Sunday to the Lord and in extreme dedication to Him he would not make any exceptions to the rule.He won a gold medal for the 400 metres and a bronze medal for the 200 metres at the Paris Olympics”.

    2 Also, you may wish to consider Paul’s words to his fellow Israelites in Romans 10:1-4:
    ‘ Dear brothers and sisters,the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is that the Jewish people might be saved.I know what enthusiasm they have for God,but it is misdirected zeal.For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself.Instead,they are clinging to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law.They won’t go along with God’s way.For Christ has accomplished the whole purpose of the law.Al who believe in Him are made right with God’.

    3 However,to refer to the action of this gentleman outstanding athlete and renowned missionary as being ‘for nothing’,certainly is inappropriate.I show due contrition,apologizing for the choice of words.He certainly was a devoted Christian,dedicated to serving the Lord,and walked in the light of his understanding of God’s will.

    4 John
    I shall answer your 2 enquiries separately,sir.

  18. John

    Sorry about the delay.Been very busy,till the Easter holidays afford me some time.

    1 In a direct line from Moses,God gave a direct revelation of Himself and His will to Abraham.In addition to the directives given to the Israelites in the times of Moses,several other directives,rules,laws were given to the people of Israel.Those who have undertaken a count say there are more than 600 such regulations in total.They cover practically every aspect of relations between men,and between men and God.They cover such things as dress code,sanitation,health,sex,hygiene etc.

    2 Please note that the laws were given principally and initially to people of a specific race,in a specific geographic location,of a specific culture.Abraham was succeeded by Isaac and Jacob,and others.In time the way of the Judaic religion came to be associated principally or exclusively with the descendants of Abraham,Isaac and Jacob-the Israelites.

    3 The promise of redemption for mankind(not only the Jews) was fulfilled when Jesus was born.He came to give us a new access to God,beyond the curtain,and without the intermediation of anyone.He now came as a new kind of,and final High Priest for us,making a new way for us to be right with God.

    4 A problem that soon arose was the confusion between race and faith.With the New Covenant were believers,non-Jews,going to be compelled to obey ‘Jewish’ customs?An example of how one such dispute was settled is narrated in Chapter 15 0f the book of Acts.

    5 The tithe as well as the observance of Sabbath were directives given to OT Jews. They are incumbent on us only to the extent that we observe the principles under the OT.For example while the paying of a mathematical % of income is not incumbent on us today,I don’t believe any truly regenerated Christian will ignore to return part of his income to He who gave him the means to make money,and even gave him life.

  19. John

    For a fuller treatment of the subject of the tithe please Google Pressing for the articles Believers are not subject to the tithe,and The trial of Brother Enoch(I have had vigorous differences with the author in the past,but I cant think of a better treatment of the subject on the net that I know of right now).

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