In order to see these trends, I had to leave out the two largest brands: Facebook and YouTube. They are an order of magnitude more popular. One might quibble about whether YouTube counts as social media, since it focuses more on video than on text communication, but these categories blur, as Facebook also has considerable visual content (including images and video), and others are focused on images as well, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.
Another nuance here that perhaps only an engineer could love is that this only shows website traffic, which may be unfair to platforms that have focused on mobile devices, such as twitter. The number of tweets sent via the twitter website is likely eclipsed by the number sent within the twitter app. Similarly, the decline in Facebook traffic after 2016 may not be as pronounced as this data implies, as much of the traffic may have shifted to the Facebook app on mobile devices.
Even engineers like me find it difficult to stay current with the flood of new gadgets, exotic engineered materials, new software apps, advances in medicine, advances in computing, and more. As technology improves and grows, our scientific understanding of the world deepens. As technology matures and expands, our ability to control our environment increases. Yet, for all that technological control we have gained, why do we individually so often feel rather out of control? Perhaps it is our natural reaction to change.
We change our world and ourselves with technology, yet human nature remains the same. We remain God’s creatures made in his own image, created good. God created us male and female, in community and relationship. Even genetic engineering does not change our human need to connect. God created us with an innate ability to recognize the divine and a special gift to worship our Creator. Even precise descriptions of subatomic quantum effects do not change our human intuition that there is something more to life than that which meets the eye. God made us the pinnacle of his creation with delegated authority and responsibility to care for the world. Even the independence we attain through technology (such as personal transportation like the automobile or personal communication like smartphones) does not change our mandate to be stewards of creation, as representatives and in service to the Creator. In fact, our role as stewards gets at the root of our ability to create technology. It is not surprising that God created humans with innate ability to make tools. We are homo faber, man the tool maker. As stewards, we have the unique ability to value the creation, to recognize the embedded worth of the resources around us as a gift. We unwrap the gift by cultivating and developing the creation with sensitive care. Our tool-making ability suits us well for these tasks.
We change our world and ourselves with technology, yet human nature remains the same. We remain fallen, tainted by sin so that we are inclined to hate God and each other. We remain in need of redemption by the blood of the Lamb. While we humans have produced many new technologies, we have not invented any new means of salvation nor have we invented any new sins. I suggest that every human foible and failing that appears novel the first time we see it depicted in the latest video or read about it in our newsfeeds it is not new at all. It is really the same news about sin, the same old wolf dressed up in new sheep’s clothing. Creative humans continually develop new tools, and fallen humans continually pursue old sins with the latest tools. There is nothing new under the sun, in a spiritual sense.
However, I do not want to minimize the danger of new tools in our fallen hands. Even if the sin is old hat, technology is an amplifier. The impact of a sin can be far greater when we use tools.
Technological amplification of sin can be the result of unintentional mistakes due to our finite nature. For example, the primary design purpose of a hammer is not bodily injury (though your thumb may disagree). Nevertheless, a hammer in the hands of an angry sinner amplifies their power to injure. Technological amplification of sin can also be the result of malicious acts due to our fallen nature. For example, the primary design purpose of a switchblade is bodily injury. This weapon in the hands of an angry sinner greatly increases their ability to draw blood.
As Christians, how can we improve our discernment, remaining wary of technological amplification of sin? For Christians working in technical areas, we have an even greater responsibility to prophetically point out these effects and when possible, to direct our tech designs towards minimizing sinful abuse. One strategy to redeem your personal use of modern technology is to keep in mind the ancient list of the seven deadly sins, identified since Medieval times:
Lord willing, in future blogs I hope to dive into further details on each of these vices, exploring how technology can be the new sheep’s clothing that dresses up that old wolf of sin.