Why I’m Changing My Mind About Technology

technology

How do you feel about your phone?

That’s an increasingly interesting question.

Ask me that five years ago and I would have told you I love mine.

My guess is that by now you might have a love/hate relationship with it.

You love what it gives you, but you’re not sure what it’s doing to you, and the emotions you experience while you scroll, tap and swipe are more mixed than in the past. Take your phone and devices away from you, though, or forget them, and you immediately panic. A near-dread ensues.

I get it.

This summer I’m writing a book on overwhelm and burnout that will come out in September 2020. The deeper I dive into the subject, the more I think the reason we’re all kind of numb and anxious has more to do with technology than we think.

Personally, I don’t like my phone nearly as much as I used to even three years ago. I find fewer things of real value on it. And yet it’s always in my hand or in my pocket. Welcome to 2019.

There’s a tremendous irony, of course, in that you’re reading this post on a device, and this post only exists because of the very technology I’m critiquing. Duly noted.

But the reality is things are changing fast.  A decade ago, I honestly believed that technology was neither good nor evil, it just revealed and amplified what was already there. Kind of like paper—you can use it to write poetry, transcribe scripture, craft a novel, paint a masterpiece, or write hate mail.

There are really good things on the internet for sure (and I search those things out and try to make sure this space is one of them). There are also some great things. But negativism seems far more prevalent today than it did a decade ago. It’s like we’re increasingly sucked into a negative feedback loop no one is sure how to escape. And it’s happening at our fingertips.

Apparently, we live in an age where we no longer own our devices. Our devices own us. And when technology runs us, it can ruin us.

Here’s why and how I’m changing my mind about technology.

We live in an age where we no longer own our devices. Our devices own us. And when technology runs us, it can ruin us. Click To Tweet

1. Nothing that important is actually happening, although you think it is

I have a distinct advantage, I think, in being born before personal computers, let alone phones and devices, made their way into every home.

The advantage? I have a decent memory of what pre-digital life was like.

I remember using paper maps and not knowing if there was traffic ahead or not. I remember leaving our kids with sitters and having no way of knowing if they were okay until we got home—and they always were.

I drove thousands of miles in a car not worried about a breakdown because, well, if it happened, surely someone would come by in the next hour or two and I could get a ride into town for help.

And sometimes you just wandered into restaurants hoping the food was good.

The only way I knew what was happening in the world is if I turned on the radio or TV, and even then, you got a 3 minute summary of what was happening, not a constant drone (I’ve never been a 24-hour news channel watcher).

Any sense of shock, outrage or concern wasn’t triggered often, and when it was, it was because something truly shocking, outrageous or concerning happened.

Fast-forward to today, and every day, you encounter a thousand triggers for sadness, outrage, anger, empathy, hurt, and frustration that your ancestors never did.

Today, as your feed follows you everywhere telling you about everything you don’t need to know and can’t really process, your senses get tripped into overload. Your brain gets hijacked, and as Tristan Harris points out, tech companies are intentionally triggering the anger and outrage cycles in our brains to get us to consume more. That sounds outrageous but read a little more deeply and widely on it…it’s at least worth considering that this may be happening.

Call it compassion fatigue, indifference or whatever you want to call it, you weren’t designed to process everything you’re processing. It leaves you feeling numb.

2. The Quality Of Your Work Is Increasingly Influenced By The Quantity of Your Likes

There’s a hard thing about doing good work.

Sometimes your best work doesn’t get immediate recognition. Sometimes real art gets rejected by your peers, great thinking gets criticized deeply, and new ideas that really are great ideas get shot down.

Take art for example. Vincent Van Gogh is a household name, he only sold one painting in his lifetime, to a Belgium art dealer seven months before he died. The reason he painted so many self-portraits is he couldn’t afford to pay any subjects to pose. In 1990, one of Van Gogh’s paintings sold for $148 million, and his works now hang in the finest museums in the world.

Imagine if Van Gogh had stopped painting because of a lack of validation in his lifetime.

Yet we increasingly live in a place where we look for instant validation. Write a post…if no one reads it, shares it or likes it, you and I are tempted to scrap it. And never write on the subject again. More than a few people have posted pics on Instagram, and if it didn’t get enough likes fast enough, they took it down.

Quantity of likes is beginning to shape the quality of our work. True, sometimes the fact that no one appreciates what you’re doing might be a clue it’s time to change direction. But also consider this: your best work might be something nobody appreciates, admires or even understands at first.

Never let the quality of your work be determined by the quantity of your likes. Instant responses are not an inherently reliable indicator of enduring value.

Do the work you’re called to do, even if no one fully understands or appreciates it at first…or at all.

Never let the quality of your work be determined by the quantity of your likes. Instant responses are not an inherently reliable indicator of enduring value. Click To Tweet

3. The anger and envy aren’t helping anyone

So much of social these days is angry, and what isn’t angry often seems crafted to be jealousy-inducing or self-promoting.

Hate, narcissism, cynicism, insecurity and division fill our feeds. Notice that in the news cycle (whatever news source you favor) everything is breaking news these days. It used to be breaking news happened when there was a disaster or a crisis. Now, a simple response to something someone else said is spun as breaking news simply in a desperate, but effective, attempt to get your eyeballs.

As far as envy goes, more of us than ever are pretending to live lives that don’t actually exist. People with 300 followers are trying to act like celebrities who have millions of followers, and it’s just not that hard to make your life look more together than it really is.

The impact of all of this for me personally is that I’m increasingly bored with or discouraged by my phone. To the point where I probably won’t upgrade this fall, because…well, what’s the point.

So much of social these days is angry, and what isn't angry often seems crafted to be jealousy-inducing or self-promoting. Click To Tweet

4. Meaningful Thinking Is Declining; Undigested Opinion is on the Rise

We live in an age where someone’s opinion about an issue becomes our opinion, where someone’s reaction to an issue becomes our reaction, or our reaction to their reaction becomes what we really think.

It’s all too easy to read a headline, watch a two-minute video rant, scan a Reddit thread or see a status update and believe we understand an issue.

Really?

We do live in a paradox in which attention spans are getting shorter and longer at the same time (long-form thinking and content is on the rise as well), but so much of what passes as content on social is mostly undigested thought.

A while ago I was at a conference and I quoted a well-known author and got some negative emails about even mentioning him. Rather than reply in writing, I talked to the people in person about their concerns and in the process, asked them if they had ever read the author in question or listened to one of his talks. They hadn’t.

It’s fascinating (and a bit concerning) to me that we live in an age in which people can hold passionate opinions about something they know almost nothing about.

Sadly, this even includes our faith or lack of it.

If you push the ranting, raving and animated discussion aside and probe a little deeper, many people are three questions away from their worldview collapsing.

We live in an age in which people hold passionate opinions about something they know almost nothing about. Many people are three questions away from their worldview collapsing. Click To Tweet

How to Change the Trajectory

In light of all this, what do you do?

The internet is not going away any time soon and technology is going to continue to transform our planet, lives and families. And I’m not selling my devices and going back to a manual typewriter or fountain pen any time soon. I’ll continue to be an early adopter.

I also lead a virtual company these days that produces virtual content (this blog, my podcast, courses and more). It’s 100% technology enabled and dependent.

But using technology and using it well are two very different things.

It also seems, that like all things, good is not inevitable. Technology will not automatically make us or things better. How we use it, steward it, harness it and leverage it will be the difference.

You can use technology to do good or to do evil, and good is not inevitable. You have to work at it.

Here are a few things that can help.

Using technology and using it well are two very different things. Click To Tweet

1. Be One of the Good People: Use Helpful and Real as Your Filters

When I think about the things that make a positive contribution online, helpful and real are two adjectives that spring to mind.

Tearing something down is a lot easier than building something. But it’s far more helpful to build than to tear down. One filter I try to use in everything I post or release is whether the material is helpful. 

Will this help people see things a little more clearly?

Solve a problem they’re trying to solve?

Help them tackle an issue they’re wrestling with?

If it won’t, I don’t publish it. I’m not sure I always get this right, but it’s a goal. And as much as critique is part of my work, I want my contribution to be encouraging, not discouraging, constructive not destructive. I think those are worthy goals.

Second, be real.

You’re a real person. You don’t need to face-filter yourself to make yourself look better than you are. After all, the people who know you in real life see your wrinkles and know your teeth aren’t that white. Your social media and posts should share the real you, not the ideal you.

Share your good moments, but be honest about the bad ones. Even on my personal feed (which is pretty concentrated on Insta Stories these days, I’ll let mispronounced words stay on the feed, show my mistakes.) As much as you want to project an ideal, people connect with real.

Your social media and posts should share the real you, not the ideal you. As much as you want to project an ideal, people connect with real. Click To Tweet

2. Unfollow: Consume more strategically

You don’t have to follow angry, negative ranters. So don’t.

And look for thoughtful, intelligent people to follow. Look for longer form content that can carry an idea beyond a soundbite or phrase.

And…this is getting harder every year given our hyper-polarized culture—get out of your echo chamber and follow people who are different than you, who don’t think the way you think, believe exactly what you believe, or who vote the way you vote. Don’t follow them to debate them. Follow them to learn from them.

A variety of viewpoints makes your viewpoint more nuanced, deeper and more intelligent.

3. Consume less. Reflect More.

I have to work hard at this because it’s so easy to just stay on your phone all day.

Years ago, I turned almost all notifications off on my devices and I leave my phone on Do Not Disturb 99% of the time (unless I’m expecting something urgent…which is rare).

But I think it’s got to be deeper than that. Leave your devices behind. You really will survive.

Go for a walk and don’t count your steps.

Read a book made of paper.

Journal using a pen and paper.

Let your thoughts digest.

Have thoughts that aren’t just a reaction to what someone else was thinking.

Pray, reflect, absorb.

Consume less. Reflect more. You’ll have a much richer life, and my guess the anxiety you feel will lessen.

Content consumed without content processed is useless.

Content consumed without content processed is useless. Click To Tweet

Time away from the digital space will make your contribution to it much richer.

Time away from the digital space will make your contribution to it much richer. Click To Tweet

Want to Reboot Your Life?

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Thoughts?

What are your thoughts on technology and the quality of life you’re living?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

36 Comments

  1. David Adetona on August 16, 2019 at 6:50 am

    Hot🔥and Powerful piece that addresses the challenges technology brings this days and the use of technology to amplify your thoughts both negative or positive. My take home here is the knowledge that technology can be a major of good than evil no matter what and also bringing balance to have time time to refresh, reinvigorate and renew yourself so as to return to contribute more to these global space through the use of the same technology! Thank you Carey, you’re an inspirational and educative leader!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 16, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      Thanks David!

  2. Maie on August 15, 2019 at 7:24 pm

    Thanks for this! I was well informed and enlightened at the same time. God has blessed you with wisdom! Keep on writing Pas. Carey. 🙂

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 16, 2019 at 12:14 pm

      I’ll keep it up!

      Carey

  3. Aaron Hall on July 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    Absolutely incredible read. Spoke to me on so may levels and as I begin to launch out and start my own blogging and vlogging on faith, culture and leadership this hit me right between the eyes. Thanks Carey!

  4. Jeff on July 15, 2019 at 12:11 am

    This is really good. Solid. Thank you! I’m preparing to teach a class, at church camp, on social media. If it’s okay with you I’d like to share some of these thoughts, giving you credit of course.

  5. June Collins on July 14, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    Great topic! I wonder if this topic could be expanded and zero in on addressing the dangers of social media on our children and young people? As a grandmother of 8 I have seen the negative effects on our older grandkids as they have withdrawn themselves from face-to-face interactions with us to almost constantly interfacing with their electronic devices. It makes us sad…
    I don’t think schools zero in on this enough. I heard that there are some schools that are banning devices in classrooms, which I regard a good thing. It would be a great rule, in that it would help teens and children to disengage creating more independence and brain rest.
    Do you know if Youth leaders are addressing these types of topics, especially since the Lord encourages us to be free from any encumbrances such as idolatries, addictions and the waste of our giftings in ministry, and so many other issues, including relationships?
    There are so many important areas in children and teens lives that are being shortchanged because of too much time spent on devices and they need to know about them so they can learn to self-determine choices!

  6. Dede Rittman on July 11, 2019 at 10:49 am

    This is the most insightful post I have read on technology. We must be masters of our social media and technology, and not allow them to enslave us. Please continue with your thoughtful and reflective posts. Dede

  7. Claire Phillips on July 9, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Carey,
    This article spoke to me on many levels. I find I have to take my news in very small doses because of all the negativity. And I think our obsession with digital technology does feed our ego (can I be first to share some breaking news, look how many responses I got to this, etc.). In today’s culture, people get bored easily – another reason to stay glued digitally so our senses can be continually fed. However much of what we’re fed falls in the category of GIGO – garbage in, garbage out. So I strive to only post positive articles, news, photos, etc. I feel that as Christian my digital posts should make it apparent that God is God of all of my life. That includes how I spend my time and my money. Today’s digital age has created a culture of instant gratification. Is there a void in your life? Then this shiny, new, awesome thingamobby will fill that. And if it doesn’t, then try this one. It’s easy to fall into a number of traps. Thanks for the tips to help us stay focused and connected to our Life Source.

  8. Tammy Stampfli on July 9, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    This is excellent. Thank you.

    • Eric Cupp on July 9, 2019 at 5:59 pm

      More Carey Bombs 💣
      This is so helpful!
      Appreciate you brother!

  9. Brent Dumler on July 9, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Great and thoughtful post, Carey! I can relate to the negativity issue you mentioned. Recently, I wrote a post attempting to bridge the gap between believers and the LGBTQ community. It was quite general and simply focused on the ‘love your neighbor’ approach, focusing our attention on looking at each other as fellow humans and not allowing social differences to completely divide us. And wow! The comments started with positivity, but quickly developed into negative criticism from some in BOTH groups.

  10. Tom D on July 9, 2019 at 8:07 am

    It’s kind of like John D Rockefeller waking up one morning and saying, “I think I’ll walk to work this morning!”

    I do have to wonder a bit though about the seemingly lack of scriptural references and guidance in this post.

    Kingdom work Carey. Remember, it’s all about sharing the Good News. (And in your case, modern ways to enable that outcome.)

    Keep up the good work!

  11. Danielle Alice Desanges Aucéane THIAM MÉKÀ de GOGUENHEIM on July 9, 2019 at 4:06 am

    Hello Carey,

    And thanks for this insightful post.

    The problem is not technology, but the misuse of technology that lead people go astray. Just like money in the the hands of an Irresponsible person.

    For me, the answer is here: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
    1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV
    https://bible.com/bible/111/1co.6.12.NIV

    We should spread the Gospel

    Thanks again and stay blessed

    Danielle Alice Desanges Aucéane

  12. Jack Murrieta on July 8, 2019 at 4:16 pm

    Your article reinforced human behavior at its best. As I reflect on what influenced my life and career choices, I have come to realize that what others thought of how I should behave and what career I should pursue were more important than the reality of who I really am. I am an old man and just beginning to feel comfortable with being courageous enough and vulnerable enough to share my true self with others. Your blog just reinforces that it is not about how many “likes” our work or opinions receive, it is about learning about our authentic self. Our smart phone and social media accelerates the the chemistry of our brain to be constantly seeking the approval of others in every aspect of our lives.
    Still learning.

  13. Ben L on July 8, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks again Carey for another insightful article! Really love your insights and blogs!
    I am not sure the “phone” is the issue, but social media instead. The phone is just the medium in which we choose to look at social media. I love my phone, but I am not on social media all that much anymore. Just like you stated, it was using up too much of my time and it was all very negative. I had to step back for my own soul’s sake. I still check it, but only every few days. Maybe it should be, “Why I’m Changing My Mind About Social Media”.
    Great post Carey!

  14. Mike Frie on July 8, 2019 at 2:07 pm

    Hey Carey, thank you for the nuanced observations and especially for the practical tips on not being so digitally-tethered. BIG shout out for keeping it real as well! Thanks again!

  15. Eddie Fleming on July 8, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    Great piece. So insightful and true. Love reading your stuff, but I just now realize why I love reading it. It’s always helpful and real, thus it always relates well with me. Although I’ve almost quit accessing Facebook, except for church stuff, I still struggle with news apps. I’m a news junky, yet the news I consume is usually junk news that’s unworthy of anyone’s time.

    Productive use of our time, which includes family time, should be greatly treasured over time spent consuming news that doesn’t affect me or those dear to me.

    Thanks again.
    Eddie
    One of your General Baptist followers.

  16. Richard Dawson on July 8, 2019 at 1:46 pm

    So true Carey and such a concern given the emotional triggers which are being deliberately pulled to create news. Social media is so full of angry and thoughtless comment. How do we train the next generation not to fall into this trap? We certainly need to be intentional about this.

  17. Chris Sweet on July 8, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Great thoughts. Thank you.

  18. Rob Russo on July 8, 2019 at 11:02 am

    Great points. I, too, am old enough to remember life without apps, but young enough to appreciate the amount of information at our fingertips (with a little always-have-my-phone-on-me FOMO sprinkled in).

    But the last year or so I’ve been simplifying my life in many ways and have found it is quite OK to set the phone down for some time and not think about it. I’ve been reading more (actual books) and journaling, too, (with a real pen and paper journal). And, I’m consuming less (TV, movies, junk food), while trying to spend more time outside, exercising, digging into the Bible, hanging out with friends, etc.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      Sounds like a great direction Rob!

  19. Eric Stiller on July 8, 2019 at 9:42 am

    This is a great piece, Carey, and your reflections on the impact of technology, and especially our phones, is spot on, in my estimation.

    Have you read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves To Death? Much of your post touches on issues and phenomena he discusses in that book (especially points 1 and 4). Although the book was more focused on television (it was published in the mid-80’s), I think it is even more relevant and prophetic for today than when it first came out.

    So grateful for you, and the wonderful content you keep producing!

    Eric Stiller
    St. Louis, MO

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:37 pm

      It’s on my summer read list. I remember hearing the buzz about it when I was in college, and I bought it earlier this summer and put on it on my list. Also reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

      Thanks Eric.

  20. Ryan on July 8, 2019 at 9:26 am

    Thanks Carey. Good thoughts to start my week as I return to work after vacation. I guess the best way to describe today’s post is “helpful and real”!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:38 pm

      It’s on my summer read list. I remember hearing the buzz about it when I was in college, and I bought it earlier this summer and put on it on my list. Also reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

      Thanks Eric.

  21. Tammy Bouchard on July 8, 2019 at 8:47 am

    Thanks for shining some light on this topic! More leaders need to be looking into technology and how it is effecting this generation! Working in the school system directly with students and my focus being mental health and well-being, it is alarming the effects technology is have on the children. Starting at birth… ? Yes! You might ask how? Babies need that connective interaction “give and take” with their parents to develop their brain. It is being interrupted by parents spending a lot of their time on their devices and then giving devices to the babies as soon as they can hold one. I have seen moms breastfeeding and instead on focusing on the nurturing interaction with their baby, they are looking at their devices. It is shocking how technology is removing our basic instinct to nurture without us even being aware…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:39 pm

      Great points. The neural research is just beginning, but the early results are not good. I think we’ll think of screens and children will eventually become like smoking with children, or drinking while pregnant. It will become unthinkable in pre-schoolers. But I could be wrong.

  22. Shaun on July 8, 2019 at 8:46 am

    What an awesome article! I think I’ll “share” it so I can get some likes! Lol, just kiddingl. So many great nuggets of wisdom, many that I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I’m sure others have too. I’m going to do my best to prevent some of these ideas with the people that I know and care about the most. We certainly need a church in the society it spends more time reflecting on what really matters . Thanks for the article !

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks Shaun!

  23. Sherman Barnette on July 8, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Carey,
    Great article! I’m very concerned about my grand children and kids today. Looking forward to the new book.

    Keep up the good word,
    Sherman

  24. Ben on July 8, 2019 at 8:18 am

    One of your best articles yet Carey! Thanks so much! This has been bothering me too and it HELPED bring insight and answers to questions that have been on my mind. This is something that should be preached in our churches!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:39 pm

      Thanks Ben. Exploring it much more deeply in my new book. Can’t wait to get it finished!

  25. Jeff Courter on July 8, 2019 at 7:54 am

    I’ve had to stop reading FB every day – it seems the only content in my newsfeed is stuff I have already read about in Twitter, or in another newsfeed, and most of it is political. I was a mass media student in college, and one of the most insightful lessons I learned was that the product of media isn’t content, it’s an audience – a set of eyeballs to sell to advertisers. So it is today. And the content we consume the most will be content which reinforces our own perspectives, since it’s not about illuminating us, it’s about getting us to click another ad banner… So I agree with your post, and also with your statement that technology itself is value-neutral. And you comment that “good is not inevitable” is profoundly true. That’s where grace must enter the picture, or goodness does not appear at all. Good post!

  26. Lee Stephen Wolak on July 8, 2019 at 7:33 am

    Great insight. I enjoy reading your perspectives as they help to to ask different question.

    Rev Lee Wolak

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 8, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks Lee!

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