Is modern technology causing ‘myopic worldview’ syndrome? Are we ‘in the present’ or are we lost in the Matrix of the IPhone?

worldview-lenses

The new buzz word of late, “worldview,” was first coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in the eighteenth century. The word he coined was: Weltanschauung. It is common for Germans combine words so Kant put two words together, welt, which means “world,” and anschauung, which can be translated into English as “conception,” “idea,” “opinion,” or “view.” James Olthuis defined a worldview as, “… a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling in it … It is the integrative and interpretative framework by which order and disorder are judged; it is the standard by which reality is managed and pursued; it is the set of hinges on which all our everyday thinking and doing turns.” The late New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg, when reflecting on what a worldview is said, “One more crucial factor … a fifth lens … better understood as a “macro-lens” affecting all of our seeing. A worldview is one’s most basic image of “what is” – of what is real and what is possible.”[1] Dr. Borg goes on to define the two major categories into which all worldviews fall, “… worldviews fall into two main categories: religious and secular. For a secular worldview, there is only “this” – and by “this” I mean the visible world of our ordinary experience. For a religious worldview, there is “this” and “more than this.” The “more than this” has been variously named, imaged, and conceptualized; I will simply call it “the sacred.” A religious worldview sees reality as grounded in the sacred. For a secular worldview, there is no sacred ground.”[2]secular.sacred (For more on the definition of worldview, here)

Nancy Pearcy offers the following contrast between the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ worldviews, ending with the important question that must be applied to all worldviews, “We often contrast “believers” to “nonbelievers,” but that can be misleading. Everyone believes something, in the sense that they must assume some principle as fundamentally true. Atheists often fail to recognize that they are in the same boat as everyone else. A common mantra on atheist websites goes like this: “Atheism is not a belief. Atheism is merely the lack of a belief in God or gods.” But it is impossible to think without some starting point. If you do not start with God, you must start somewhere else. You must propose something else as the ultimate, eternal, uncreated reality that is the cause and source of everything else. The important question is not which starting points are religious or secular, but which claims stand up to testing.”[3]

In brief, a worldview has been described as, not what someone sees, but what one sees with.  This is of particular importance when one considers the overwhelming volume of information that we are subject to on a daily basis. For the Christian, keeping one’s worldview ‘eyeglasses’ firmly attached, is vital in the technological world of today. If we are seeing only with the eye, our Christian worldview will gradually be altered to the point that we may develop symptoms of what I call, the ‘myopic worldview syndrome.’ (More on this later) As Christians we must not only see with the eye, but through the eye of the lens of the Christian worldview. (For more on the Christian worldview, here)

Ravi Zacharias offers the following insight as to how modern technology is influencing our worldviews:

“Well, today our worldviews are formed by being informed through the power of the visual as the lines between reality and imagination are blurred. The propositional is replaced by the visual-the darkest reality of our time-distortions and images coming into children’s minds. [Note: we as adults are not excluded from this mind melding affect.] Our society has been buying into the delusion that we see on TV, in music and on our billboards. [and now internet/IPhones] We must guard our souls, by what we expose ourselves to. Are we buying into the delusion society is offering to us?” And Malcolm Muggeridge adds, “The media in general, and TV [and now the internet/IPhones] in particular, are incomparably the greatest single influence in our society. This influence is, in my opinion, largely exerted irresponsibly, arbitrarily, and without reference to any moral or intellectual, still less spiritual guidelines whatsoever.”

 
As both these men have highlighted, it isn’t just the distraction aspect or the time wasting aspect or the antisocial effect that is at issue here—it is the worldview construct that is formed through the input received.

How many people, including those of us reading this post, put the input and information they receive through even the basic LEE test? I am not referring to a worldview consultant by the name of LEE—LEE is the acronym for the three tests of truth—1) logical consistency, 2) empirical adequacy and 3) experiential relevance. Most people’s worldviews are not put to the LEE test, and as such, whether we like to admit it or not, we are having our worldviews shaped by what some have called “techno-utopianism.” In a nutshell, techno-utopianism is defined as, “any ideology based on the premise that advances in science and technology will eventually bring about a utopia, or at least help to fulfill one or another utopian ideal.” Cultural critic Imre Szeman has argued that technological utopianism is an irrational social narrative as there is no evidence to support it. He concludes that what it shows is the extent to which modern societies place a lot of faith in narratives of progress and technology overcoming things, despite all evidence to the contrary.[4]

put-it-downAlarmingly, we are all becoming ‘screenagers’ in our day and age, and this is largely due to the new and ‘CAN’T DO WITHOUT IT,’ IPhone. Recent research estimates that a typical mobile user checks their phone more than 150 times per day! That means that a person that is awake for 16 hours of the day, checks their phone more than 9 times an hour, or approximately, once every 6 minutes. By observing those around me, I would say that it is much higher than these statistics show considering that one ‘check of the phone’ can easily turn into 1-5 minutes of mental processing time, returning texts, etc. A case in point—next time you travel, look around the airport and observe how many people are glued to their IPhones. Actually it would be easier to count the number of people who are not glued to their IPhones, as those would be less than the ones who are. I have been saddened to see again and again, a small toddler tugging at her mother’s dress, only to be completely ignored because the mother is in an ‘IPhone trance’ and is completely oblivious to her child’s needs. [Once the mother finally picks up the crying child, she holds the child in one arm while continuing on in her trance like state with her phone.]  Or, next time you are looking out the window of your house and see a parent taking a walk with their child, carefully observe how much interaction via conversation they are having—my guess would be little or none as the probability of the adult being enamored by their IPhone will be more likely the case than not. Man in bed with IPhoneAnd if this wasn’t enough, a recent study out of the U.K. suggests Britons are having less sex because they are distracted by social media and are taking their portable technology with them into the bedroom.[5]

The reasons for this tsunami of self-centeredness which is attributed to the time people spend on their IPhone in a day, from first thing in the morning until the time the fall asleep at night, is succinctly addressed by Dr. Kathy Koch as she writes, “The use of technology can cause any of us to become self-centered. It’s so focused on the consumer! If you trawl online one afternoon for a certain kind of T-shirt or new boots, advertisers for T-shirts and boots will appear on your Facebook news feed for weeks. When you buy a book on Amazon.com or borrow one via a library app, book suggestions will appear, tailored just for you based on your buying preferences and books that other people bought who also purchased the book you did. That computer seems to know you and be conforming to your particular needs! The computer reinforces the untruth: It’s all about me!”[6]

But how is this all playing out in real time in the lives of our children, the next generation? One only need consider the following alarming trends:

Meet your child’s new teacher: the iPad
Every pupil in Thailand already has one. In Britain, it could one day replace lessons and teachers themselves. But is the iPad doing students more harm than good?

Toddlers so addicted to iPads they need therapy
Children as young as four are becoming so addicted to smartphones and iPads that they require psychological treatment.

Children addicted to internet and gaming sent to £4,500 a week addiction clinics

And last, but not least, from the techno-giant Japan, comes internet ‘fasting camps’ for children:

Japan is planning to introduce Internet “fasting” camps staffed by education experts who will help children overcome their addiction to the online world.

“More than 500,000 Japanese children between the ages of 12 and 18 are believed to be addicted to the internet, although the ministry of education here says it is difficult to get accurate figures on the scale of the problem. “It’s becoming more and more of a problem,” Akifumi Sekine, a spokesman for the ministry, told The Daily Telegraph. “We estimate this affects around 518,000 children at middle and high schools across Japan, but that figure is rising and there could be far more cases because we don’t know about them all.” The ministry is planning a comprehensive research project into internet addiction in the next fiscal year and has asked the government to fund immersion programmes designed to get children away from their computers, mobile phones and hand-held game devices. “We want to get them out of the virtual world and to encourage them to have real communication with other children and adults,” Mr Sekine said. The ministry is proposing to hold “fasting” camps at outdoor learning centres and other public facilities where children will have no access to the Internet. The youngsters will be encouraged to take part in outdoor activities, team sports and games, with psychiatrists and clinical psychotherapists on hand to provide counselling should the transition back into the real world prove too traumatic. Internet addiction is blamed for sleep and eating disorders in growing numbers of young people in Japan, while extreme cases have led to symptoms of depression and deep vein thrombosis, more commonly associated with passengers in cramped conditions on long-haul flights. Studies suggest that an obsession with online activities is also having an impact on children’s school performances.” Read more here

 
The internet/IPhone addiction is becoming so widespread in China, that they are resorting to internet free military style camps to help young people who are technology addicted, to overcome their obsession. (For article, here)

dt_iphone-while-driving-20121120084337288662-620x349And these articles don’t even touch upon the effect that the misuse of IPhones have on our safety. In a year, in the U. S. alone, more than 1.6 million accidents are due to texting or calling or checking messages while driving, which accounts for approximately 28 percent of all accidents. The National Safety Council estimates that in 2012, 26% of U.S. motor vehicle crashes involved the use of cell phones or texting. After all, how can you ignore anyone anymore when everyone knows that everyone else has their smartphone on them at all times?

In her excellent article, And Then God Said, ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ Rachel Jones offers the following insightful observations as to where our ‘techno-utopian’ world is taking us:

“Even leaders and entrepreneurs within the tech community are beginning to question the ethics of a force that has changed our ability to truly listen and be present. They’re bringing up relevant questions for young Christians whose faith practices take them onto their phones and laptops. Some ask whether the lure of technology has negatively impacted young people’s brains, decreasing their ability to sustain undivided attention. Or as one tech writer asks, “Are all the modern devices and digital conveniences we have at our disposal – from the web and social media to smartphones and tablets – making us more distracted and less able to concentrate?”[7]

 
If recent research is any indication, the answer is a resounding, YES!

According to a recent study, which is referenced in the recent article by Michael Brenner, Thanks Social Media – Our Average Attention Span Is Now Shorter Than Goldfish, Brenner observes, “According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the average attention span of a human being has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. This is one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. That’s right, goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds – 1 second more than you and I. According to the source, this is due to “external stimulation” like all that content marketing we’re producing and distributing across all the social media channels. The research states:

“Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the achievement of one’s goals. It’s no surprise attention spans have been decreasing over the past decade with the increase in external stimulation.”[8]

Hmm…a goldfish…who would have thought?

Why do we get so easily distracted by technology?–The Documentary Channel

When studying the following statistics, it is no surprise that the ‘myopic worldview syndrome’ has become the worldview of choice for many people:

  • 73 percent of adults now use a social networking site of some kind.
  • The average American on social media platforms receives about 54,000 words and 443 minutes of video every day.
  • More than one billion tweets are sent every hour, or about 100,000 tweets per minute.
  • According to Twitter’s calculations, a day’s tweets are enough to write a 10 million-page book or 8,163 copies of Tolstoy’s classic novel War and Peace (which runs about 1,300 pages).
  • 20 million emails were sent in the time it took to say this sentence.
  • 16 minutes of every hour is spent on social networking sites.

 
No wonder experts have now identified “Information Fatigue Syndrome” (or IFS), the fatigue of being overwhelmed by an incomprehensible and indigestible amount of information. The solution is what’s called Digital Detox, which is defined as “a period of time during which a person restrains from using electronic devices so one can focus on social interaction in the physical world.”

What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains–Decreasing Knowledge Retention–Removing Us from the Present

This information overload, which has a worldview altering effect, is creating what I would call an epidemic of ‘myopic worldview’ syndrome, commonly defined as, “lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning.” In other words, a condition in which ones worldview is as near-sighted as the distance between their eyes and their IPhone, where a person enters a world, (unconscious of their present surroundings), in which they are racing through emails, texts, then texting back, latest pop news, sports scores, advertisements, Facebook notifications, etc., etc., at a mind numbing speed which has contributed to our overall attention span decreasing over time, or better said, our attention span for what is truly important. “What?! Truly important?! What could be more important than the information I receive on my IPhone?” It’s quite simple really, it is all about being in the present. We are relational beings, created by a personal and relational God, and we were hardwired for ‘up close and personal’ relationships, the kind that looks into another person’s eyes and is in conversational engagement with that person; whether they be our husband, wife, child, classmate, colleague at work, or neighbor, or even a stranger sitting across from us at Starbucks. Being in the present is the obligation of every person as we are all responsible for someone. As it has been said, ‘no man is an island.’ This is particularly true of those of us who are Christian witnesses and case-makers, as we are to be a tuned to the people around us and their needs, especially that of their need for, ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ (John 14:6) However, there will be little room for the present if our Christian worldview is being myopically altered 150+ times a day!

heaven_text_withdrawl

In Summary
The purpose of this article is not to encourage everyone to throw their IPhones in the trash, that would be unrealistic in our day and age. It is simply to help heighten the awareness of the pitfalls of our technological age, both for ourselves as adults and for those of the next generation. We who embrace the Christian worldview, can take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that our worldview isn’t being altered in such a way that it begins to develop symptoms of, and even eventually fall into the ‘myopic worldview syndrome’ via technology which much of the world of our day has fallen prey too. Canadian sociologist Barry Wellman refers to such technological obsession as akin to religious devotion–“Reading and responding to the Internet is more personally immersive than watching television or talking on the telephone. To net surf, someone must peer intently into a nearby screen as if praying to a shrine and finger keys as if they were prayer beads.” As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21) It is interesting to note, that this verse is followed immediately by those about the eye, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 ESV) May we all heed our Savior’s instruction in keeping our Christian worldview glasses on at all times. The following poem by William Blake says it well and is applicable to our day and age, even though it was written in the 19th century:
      

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

~ William Blake, from The Everlasting Gospel (1810)

 
We need to be in the present, loving God with all our mind,if we are to carry out the Great Commission that Jesus has set before us. To do so, we must ‘have the mind of Christ,’ which will only come through ‘presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship…not being conformed to this world, but being transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (1 Cor. 2:16; Romans 12:1-2) Paul said that he, ‘would not be dominated by anything,’ or as the KJV puts it, ‘I will not be brought under the power of any.’ (1 Cor. 6:12) It is my prayer that this article will cause each of us to pause and take time to reflect on our technology habits and lifestyle, to make changes where needed, taking into consideration the pitfalls, as well as utilizing the strengths of technology for God’s glory. Modern technology can be, and is used as a means unto the end of carrying out the Great Commission, and we can rejoice and thank God for the inventive minds that he has bestowed upon certain persons to develop this means. One example of this is Ed Stetzer’s article, 3 Ways Technology Enables the Mission of the Church, in which he states that, “technology is a resource the church must wisely steward to accomplish the Great Commission. The technological-ification of the church is a huge issue, and every congregation and every pastor needs to take advantage of technology in order to enable the church’s mission. I believe technology is a resource that we can use for God’s glory. Here’s three ways technology enables the church’s mission…” (Here for the complete article.)

I will end here with more from the article, And Then God Said, ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ “…it’s not too late to change our attitudes. Just as technology enthusiasts have rushed to embrace such axioms as “stay lean” and “work smarter, not harder,” a countercultural conversation advocates meditation and mindfulness within digital culture. This latter conversation by no means supersedes the wisdom and directive of the Bible, but still has something to teach us. For if “culture informs technology development and then technology moves culture forwards,” a new attitude towards technology can strengthen how we use it to practice our faith. How do we temper our mediated reality, one awash by distraction, forgetfulness and stress, with mindfulness and intentionality, without retreating to a Wi-Fi free Silence Room? Bethany Jenkins, a member of the Redeemer Presbyterian congregation in New York City, who cofounded the 843 Acres site, reminds me, “Any tool is what you make of it.”

We could all use a bit more ‘look up’ time, so why not take some time today, or possibly stopping right now to, ‘look up’–you may find it refreshing, both physically and spiritually…


References:

[1] Marcus Borg, Seeing Jesus, Sources, Method and Lenses, http://www.huuf.org/pages/minister_reading_mtrl/lenses.pdf
[2] Ibid, Marcus Borg
[3] Pearcey, Nancy, Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, 2015, p. 62, David C. Cook
[4] Szeman et al. System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of DisasterSouth Atlantic Quarterly, 2007; 106 (4): 805
[5] Jennifer Dunning, People having less sex because of social media distractions: study http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2013/11/people-having-less-sex-because-of-social-media-distractions-study.html
[6] Dr. Kathy Koch, The Selfishness of Digital Life ‘On Demand’
http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/march/selfishness-of-digital-life-on-demand.html
[7] http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2013/december/god-said-youve-got-mail.html?paging=off
[8] http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/

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