Three ways of thinking for a healthy relationship with technology

"The Social Dilemma" and our social media habits

October 1, 2020

A few days ago, I started hearing buzz around the documentary, “The Social Dilemma.” It is a documentary on NETFLIX that exposes how addiction and targeted ads and videos aren’t accidental side effects of social media use, but they are planned features to keep the user coming back. Although its original design was intended for good, many of the former tech executives in the documentary say that social media apps are now monetizing this addiction and have the potential to shape beliefs and behaviors in negative ways. 

As a Christian, this is disconcerting, and yet if we look at the last few years, we can understand how this is true. Between the Pizzagate conspiracy on TikTok and the Flat Earth Conspiracy theories seen on YouTube, we see just two substantial examples of how social media has affected the beliefs of its users. Not to mention that psychologists are now linking social media use to seeing increased depression in children. So, what are we to do? How do we ensure we aren’t addicted to technology and our minds and behaviors aren’t altered by smartphones?

Justin Early, in his book The Common Rule: Habits for Purpose in an age of Distraction says, “Habits form much more than our schedules: they form our hearts.” I think this is a wise word for believers wrestling with how to use technology well. Here are a few “habits” or ideas that will better help you grapple with how to use technology well. 

Make your smartphone work for you

A few years ago I read a book called The Tech-Wise Family. In his book, Andy Crouch argues that we ought to be putting technology in its proper place. In other words, technology should serve a purpose; you shouldn’t serve technology. In order to do this, Crouch gives 10 Commitments or guiding principles that will help you form a better relationship with technology. 

One of the principles I recently started practicing was making sure that my smartphone “goes to bed” before I go to bed and “wakes up” after I wake up. My phone shouldn’t be the last thing I see at night or the first thing I see in the morning. This seems like common sense, but truth be told it’s something I haven’t been practicing during most of 2020. I’ve found myself scrolling the news or social media in bed. As I checked my phone for more updates on the many happenings of 2020, I slowly became more addicted to “news.” What originally started as a quick five-minute habit turned into something I’d do and lose track of time (and precious minutes of sleep). 

One practical way to enforce this habit is to limit what apps you can use and when. Most smartphones now have screen time limits where you can shut down and wake up apps at specific times. I now have a minimalistic list of apps that I can use (messaging, notes, etc.) in addition to the main purpose of the smartphone, actual phone calls, from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. No more mindlessly scrolling through Twitter before bed. No more ending the day with fear-driven news or peeking in on the latest evangelical Twitter battle. 

We should view our use of social media as a good news tool, not sticking our heads in the sand about hardship, crisis, and heartache, but as a method to take the good news to those hard places and meet the needs of others.

After putting these guidelines in place, I was surprised at how much more reading I finished in a night and how I was able to fall asleep faster. I was no longer going to bed anxious about the news or what a neighbor said on Facebook. Now I jot down my to-do list for the next day, pick up a book, and read until I’m ready for sleep. It’s been incredibly life-giving. 

Know when to step away

Another good practice is learning how and when to unplug. I often set good boundaries, only to slip into bad habits again. This is a good signifier that I need to unplug for a few days and reset boundaries. Tiffany Shlain, a Jewish filmmaker and author of 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week recommends unplugging for at least one day a week. In her book, she calls this a “technology Shabbat,” modeled after a traditional Jewish shabbat. One day a week from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays, their family powers off every cellphone, iPad, TV, and other computers in the house. They kick off the shabbat with a big meal, signifying the communal aspect of shabbat, and she has said that this has been one of the most life-giving habits for her family.

Andy Crouch, in The Tech-Wise Family, says something similar. He recommends shutting it all down for one hour a day, one day a week, and staying unplugged for one week a year. As Christians, this idea of sabbath rest from technology shouldn’t feel too unfamiliar. After all, we see an example of our good and all-knowing God modeling rest in the creation narrative. And historically, Sabbath rest, moderation, and fasting have all been disciplines that were practiced regularly by Christians. Practicing these disciplines directly combats a cultural gluttony that values independence, surplus, and instant gratification. Rather than succumbing to addiction and the instant gratification that smartphones can bring, we have the opportunity to point to a better way of living: one rooted in Christ, our ultimate sabbath.

See the potential for gospel good

It’s tempting to get caught up in a doomsday approach. It seems like just about every major problem in society has the potential to lead toward the end of humanity as we know it—or at least, that’s what the talking heads tell us (and the end of the documentary suggested). But as a people who base our entire existence on the hope of a suffering King who has promised to come again, we can have a more redemptive lens. We know that God has promised to make all things new. And in the meantime, he has charged his church with the mandate to go into the world and preach the gospel, and to be for the flourishing of others around us. Social media can be a powerful tool toward those ends, so we choose to steward it well. 

We should proclaim Jesus every chance we get on social media. We can point to rhythms and resources that help others walk faithfully with Christ. We must model Christlike discourse online when the rest of the world is yelling. We have the opportunity give generously to GoFundMe accounts and other organizations raising funds for worthy causes. We should view our use of social media as a good news tool, not sticking our heads in the sand about hardship, crisis, and heartache, but as a method to take the good news to those hard places and meet the needs of others. In other words, we use social media for Gospel good and don’t allow social media to use us for evil. 

These are just a few habits we can practice, and they aren’t exhaustive. Rather, my prayer is that they serve as a catalyst for you to spend some time thinking and praying through how you can, as Andy Crouch says, put technology in its proper place. 

Brittany Salmon

Brittany Salmon is a professor, writer, and Bible teacher. She is the author of the book It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Cross-Cultural Adoption releasing in April, 2022. She has an MA in Intercultural Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Teaching from NC State … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24