Technology is all around us. Whether it takes the form of a smart phone, tablet, computer, or even the way we make coffee in the morning, it surrounds us daily. In the liturgy of life, from waking up in the morning to laying our head down at night, we are inundated with technology. This reality has both positive and negative influence upon our lives. I believe, too often, we can focus on the negatives and dangers of technology and forget to embrace the good that it brings to our lives. This article will reflect on four major categories in which I think technology improves our lives both on the individual level and as a society. Granted, as with most aspects of life it is not all black and white. Each category will have its negatives, but today I will focus solely on the positive ways it impacts our day-to-day lives. The four categories I will focus upon are: creative outposts, education, communication, and social media/niche communities.
In previous generations, the chance to produce in a creative manner often had its hinderances mostly in relation to resources. If you were a musical performer, the only way to get noticed and “make it” would be to be physically present and perform somewhere. In order to create quality demos of your work, this required significant financial resources. Today, artists of all generations are able to use their creative skills to produce high quality recordings with minimal financial strain, all from their own home. Artists can also put themselves out there on YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and a variety of other outlets in order to be seen and heard. This has enabled a new generation to provide the world with very broad array of fresh talent.
This creative outlet is not only in relation to music but can also be seen in writing and speaking. Blogs are now booming and anyone can have a voice. No longer are there centralized groups of people controlling the access to high quality content. If you have something to say, then you can easily put your voice out there in the form of writing (blogs) or speaking (podcasts). The control of quality and popularity is now in the hands of the public rather than individuals vetting the merits of someone’s voice and opinions.
Even people with physical or mental handicaps have access to produce and have a voice. One of Apple’s initiatives is to provide high quality accessibility features on all their devices and software so everyone has a voice, regardless of any limitations one may have. This quote from Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, I think sums up this access for all people well
People with disabilities often find themselves in a struggle to have their human dignity acknowledged. They frequently are left in the shadows of technological advancements that are a source of empowerment and attainment for others. But Apple’s engineers push back against this unacceptable reality, they go to extraordinary lengths to make our products accessible to people with various disabilities from blindness and deafness to various muscular disorders and this beautiful story
I (Tim Cook) receive hundreds of e-mails from customers every day, and I read them all. Last week I received one from a single mom with a three year old autistic son who was completely non-verbal, and after receiving an iPad, for the first time in his life, he had found his voice. I receive scores of these incredible stories from around the world and I never tire of reading them.
Technology has given more people, who are all created in the image of God, a creative voice in the world. We should embrace this creativity and encourage people of all ages and abilities to find their creative niche with the help of technology.
Previously, educational access was primarily limited to physical locations. So for many people, if they did not have access to these locations they would not receive education that is now available to them. Online learning has decentralized the education process. Now, anyone, regardless of location, can receive learning from wherever they are.
I find this to be especially important for lay people in churches here in the United States and around the world. Access to high quality education, formal or informal, is only a mouse-click away. Resources range from the informal training of Ligonier Ministries or Bible Mesh to the formal training at our Southern Baptist seminaries. By providing access to content from anywhere, it allows people to learn content where they are situated.
Communication is no longer limited to being physically present. This was transformed with the introduction of the telephone but every year we gain better and more effective methods of communicating with each other from a distance. There are many positive applications of using technology for communication, whether it is talking with friends and family, business associates, missionaries, etc. We are now able to form and foster new and ongoing relationships despite the distance that may separate many of us. If you are in the business world you may now be able to have meetings where you would be required to travel but instead can have a conference video call from the comfort of your office. Reducing the travel time could potentially give you more opportunity to spend time with your family and be involved in your local church.
Social Media and Niche Communities
Lastly, the continued rise of social media, plus creative outposts such as blogs and podcasts, has presented many opportunities for people to form online communities, especially related to niche interests. I think one of the reasons for this rise is that often times, unless you live in a bigger city, you may be the only one around that is interested in these hobbies. For example, the use of fountain pens has been increasing the last several years. I think one of the reasons for this rise of interests is that there is an ever growing community of fountain pen users that have congregated online. People are able to form a bond of the presence of these communities through similar interests. There are many blogs and websites created by individuals who now have a voice (see creative outposts) in the community by talking about what they love. This doesn’t replace the reality of actual, physical community, because the interest in niche hobbies does not always lend itself well to like-minded community. However, social media has allowed many to find this community in the online environment for the hobbies they love.
The continued rise of technology in our every day lives provides many positive opportunities to create, produce, educate, communicate, and engage with like-minded people in ways that were previously unavailable. We always need to be mindful of the negative implications that often accompany these endeavors, but that should not prohibit our moderate use of it. So go out today and engage your creative side and share with the world, learn about something, or find that community that shares one of your interests and dive deeper into it. Take advantage of the many outlets that technology provides to us.
 There is a whole other conversation on the merits of online theological education that I will not address here. Needless to say, there are both pros and cons to online theological education. One area that online education struggles to address is the formation of the person in the educational process, which is vital to education. The content can be delivered and learned in effective ways but true formation requires a physical presence with physical people. This should be taken into account when one is choosing training for ministry.