Why you should stop worrying about new technology

I’m a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology. My husband and I didn’t have home internet for the first five years of marriage, I ditched my smartphone almost two years ago, and I’ve convinced my oldest child that his Kindle paperwhite is a legitimate tablet. I don’t want to pretend that I don’t use technology, but I’m often skeptical that new technology will actually make my life better.

I like the approach of the Amish: They don’t inherently dislike innovation, but they are critical about new technology, especially if it has the possibility to replace meaningful community (i.e. cars, phones, etc.). They observe the rest of us “English” people, and, if a new tool somehow makes our lives better, they incorporate it into their lifestyle. (For instance, some Amish use telephones, but they don’t keep them in private homes.) Essentially, they dissect the tool and then use it for its specific intention, all the while giving themselves plenty of boundaries so they don’t become a slave to the tool. They embody the mantra “love people, use things.”

I greatly respect their spirit of curiosity, so I took a similar approach a few months ago to explore ChatGPT. As a writer myself, I was intrigued by this new form of AI and its implications for my freelance work. So, I typed in a prompt, a suggested tone and a word count for an article I had already written (but had not yet published). And wouldn’t you know, AI made a shockingly similar article to the one I was about to submit. Obviously, this doesn’t bode well for the future of my work as a freelancer, but it’s incredible to think that a computer program can replicate (in seconds) something that took me weeks of thoughtful prayer to write. I left the experience knowing a little bit more about AI but more or less unperturbed by a future I can’t predict, let alone control. I don’t know exactly what the future of my writing career will look like, but it doesn’t seem like a productive use of my time to worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet.

The Christian approach

But, when I shared this (seemingly benign anecdote) at a recent church function, I was surprised by how much pushback I received. While I thought I was filling awkward silence with small talk, I quickly realized these people were legitimately afraid. It immediately became fodder for the “we’re all doomed and our society is falling apart” talking points so many of us hear on a regular basis. I’m sure we’re all used to these responses by now, but I was surprised to hear a bunch of people who believe in Jesus as the King of the Universe worried about a computer program. Seriously, let’s take a moment to think this through. As a Catholic, I believe that Jesus, an itinerant preacher who lived 2,000 years ago, was betrayed by one of his closest friends and ritually executed by a colonizing military state, yet he somehow overcame all of these obstacles and inspired the world’s largest religion. And…. I’m supposed to be caught up in worry about encroaching tech?

In all of these conversations Christians are having about technology, we’re somehow missing the part about Jesus. Sure, we can have hesitations and real reasons for concern. But are our hearts rooted in the belief that Jesus conquered sin and death forever, or are we living in anxiety that a robot is going to take over the world? Because we can’t believe the first and live in worry about the second at the same time. If we truly believe that Jesus offers us a life of freedom, then living in that freedom is incongruous with a life of fear. Because the problem isn’t ChapGPT or smartphones or automobiles. The problem is that we use things in a way that contradicts our values and beliefs. The Israelites did it with a golden calf they made in the desert thousands of years ago, and since then we’ve done it with just about anything and everything we can get our hands on.

Live in freedom, not fear

None of us are immune from this tendency to compromise our values for the easy path. For instance, living an intentional life of stewardship is one of the values I claim to have as a follower of Christ, but I absolutely shirk that value when I find myself prioritizing busyness over true freedom. For me, this looks like running countless “errands’’ in my car, overfilling my trash can with things I probably didn’t need in the first place, and using the other technology I have at my disposal (air-conditioning, running water, internet access, etc.) with little thought or appreciation. It becomes mindless, an endless cycle of consumerism. I think humans are capable of doing this with just about anything, which is why discerning our values and then living by them is so important.

So, when new technology comes in, whether that’s ChatGPT or self-driving cars, let’s follow the lead of the Amish and actually approach it with curiosity. Let’s see what it can do to improve our lives. Because if this new tool can help us live a more joyful life, in service to our creator and his creation, then I’m all for using it. And if the technology makes it harder to live an intentional life, whatever that looks like for you, then it’s probably not worth the trouble. One thing I know for sure: Jesus gives us a spirit of freedom, not fear. So the second you’re caught up in worry, about new tech or even the future itself, take a moment to address where that fear is coming from, because it certainly isn’t coming from Jesus.

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