Article Dec 20, 2018

A wisdom guide for giving technology gifts

This Christmas season is full of long to-do lists, activities, shopping, spending time with family and friends, and giving gifts. Technology and gadgets are often at the top of wish lists for both the young and old. I grew up surrounded by technology and like to include the latest gizmos at the top of my Christmas list, too.  

As you prepare to shop for technology-related gifts, or if you’ve already finished your shopping list, I encourage you to think about how these gifts might be best used in ways that honor the Lord and love your neighbor (Matt. 22:37-39). So, instead of being a product-by-product list of the hottest gadgets this season, this article is more of a guide for how these technologies can be used with wisdom.

1. Smart home devices

Powered by artificial intelligence and forms of automation, smart home devices are extremely popular as gifts this season. These devices make up the Internet of Things (IoT) and help automate various functions in your home. From Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Siri to Nest thermostats, August locks, and Abode alarm systems, the IoT is growing each day as our homes become more connected. My family has found these tools extremely beneficial to our daily lives. For example, we have our porch lights and heating monitored and automated to our liking.  

The driving factor behind these tools are various sensors that collect random bits of data from your home and environment to automate tasks. I caution you to read about the types of data they collect and how it’s stored before you turn your home from a “dumb” one to a “smart” one. Even popular smart assistants have an array of microphones always “listening” in order to be ready at your call. And they usually collect your questions and commands in a database in order to learn from them to make your future conversations more pleasant and beneficial. So, before you ask your new assistant to change the temperature, know that you are providing these systems massive amounts of data.

2. Virtual reality headsets

Some of the hottest gadgets this year are virtual reality headsets, and for good reason. They are extremely immersive and offer users an array of virtual tools including 360-degree movies and games, virtual worlds, and news. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg bought the upstart and popular VR headset manufacturer Oculus just a few years back and proclaimed their goal to see one billion people in VR. To understand more about virtual reality and how to use it wisely, you can read my previous article here.

Many VR headsets and devices have one glaring issue, though—a number of them do not have any sort of parental controls that allow parents to monitor screen time, inappropriate content, or what is downloaded to the device. A quick search online will reveal thousands of parents that were shocked to find their teenagers engrossed in pornography using their VR headsets. Parents should know how this technology functions before handing them to their kids on Christmas morning. I think the wisest thing to do is to make these kind of tools a family gift so that their immersive nature will not lead to isolation.

3. Gaming systems

For as long as they have been around, gaming systems have topped the holiday gift charts. They are a ton of fun. While some systems like the Sony Playstation are starting to include VR experiences, most systems are still being used on computer and TV screens, and are gaining popularity on tablet devices and mobile phones. I encourage parents to keep two things in mind as they plan to purchase these systems for their families.

First, know what games your family is playing. You’ll probably want to play alongside them to know what they are being exposed to. Many games might leave you uncomfortable at the level of violence and bloodshed, but you will also get a glimpse into what stories your children are being told about the world and about themselves. This is an opportunity for you to learn alongside your kids and make memories together.  

Second, beware of peer-to-peer live audio gaming. I had a parent tell me about how his family decided to ban all two-way communication on their consoles because of the language, bullying, and even sexual exploitation that can occur through these open audio channels. So, before you set your child up with a new gaming system, evaluate how these games are influencing their young minds.

4. Tablets, phones, and computers

There are nearly 2.5 billion smartphones in use worldwide, and that number will continue to grow this holiday season. The impact of these devices is just starting to be seen. For an in-depth look at the effects of screens, especially on children, make sure to check out Jean Twenge’s book iGen, where she explores some of the positive and negative effects these devices are having on the generation that has never known a day without them. My colleague Julie Masson has thought about how to protect your kids online using these devices. Her advice about what apps to avoid and how to monitor what your children see online is invaluable.  

This holiday season, I encourage you to be mindful about the time that your family spends on these devices. It is easy to be physically in the room with others but not be present. Many of these tools, including all Apple iOS devices, now have a screen time feature where you can see how long you spend on them, where you spend it, and what you are seeing. When this feature first debuted with a recent update, I was shocked and convicted at the amount of time I spent looking at my phone each day and the little I had to show for all of that time.  

We should be aware of the stronghold these devices can have over our lives, but we shouldn’t forget to enjoy these good gifts that God has given us. They allow us to have more information available at our fingertips than the entire world had available just a few decades prior.

As you give gifts and open your own this Christmas, commit to memory the simple commands that God has given us to navigate this life: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These words can help guide us as we seek to love God and our neighbors through the ways that we engage with the tech gifts under the tree. These gadgets are indeed tools that we can use in ways that honor God, but only if we are intentional to use them with wisdom.