All this technology is making us antisocial. pic.twitter.com/k4j7lOSUeh
— Historical Pics (@HistoricalPics) December 15, 2013
This picture got retweeted a bunch yesterday. The sarcasm of it is clear. People have correlated technology with the advancement of societal ill for a long, long time.
Today’s whipping boy is the smartphone. The point of the tweet above seems to be that people used to look at newspapers the same way people look at their phones today.
You see, we like to romanticize our past as if we were any different than today. When in fact things really haven’t changed very much. We always blame the technology, never addressing the root problem.
The War on Entertainment
I grew up with parents complaining about video games leading me to commit murder. In 1993, 20 years ago, there were congressional hearings about Mortal Combat!
I remember parents debating whether to allow their kids to have a TV in their bedroom or their own phone line. Oh, they might watch MTV or talk to their girlfriend about sex!
My parents grew up hearing about the evils of rock and roll.
My grandparents grew up hearing about the ills of the radio or going to the movies.
On and on through the ages the older generation looks at the younger and their technology and predicts the end of society as they know it.
Take this example from the 1820s.
The Christian and the Theater
… by some strange concurrence of circumstances, this evil, sinful and pestiferous as it evidently is, has crept, under a sort of disguise, into the Church of Christ; and has come to be considered by many, as an amusement lawful for Christians! With respect to most other sins which we are in the habit of reproving, they are freely and generally acknowledged to be such; and when any of those who belong to the communion of our churches fall into them, they are dealt with as circumstances require. But we have here the strange phenomenon of a great and crying sin, which some professed Christians not only indulge—but which they openly endeavor to justify; to which they freely introduce their children; and, as if this were not enough, in behalf of which they take serious offence when the ministers of Christ speak of it in the terms which it deserves. Rely upon it, reader, this practice will not stand the test of examination. It is corrupt and indefensible throughout; and the more speedily you become convinced of this, and act accordingly, the better will it be for yourself, and the better for society.
How Long Must We Sing This Song?
Today’s bully-pulpit is social media and the lowly smartphone.
And while most aren’t saying that your iPhone will lead you straight to hell, I’ve heard folks blame both for just about everything.
It’s a new verse to a tired old song long ready to be put to pasture.
It’s Time for Engagement, Not Indictment
The same tract gives the comment I can predict as push back to this post:
Perhaps some will consider this as taking an unnecessarily strict, and even puritanical view of the theater, as an amusement. This is so far from being the case, that the sentiments which have been expressed, are those in which the wise and the virtuous, in all ages, have been entirely unanimous, even from the origin of the practice. (source)
The reason I’ve given up on this line of argument is that I can look at hundreds of years of history and say, with gusto: Jesus doesn’t call us to withdraw from society, he asks us to engage it incarnationally.
Standing on the outside, condemning, preaching against, dropping guilt trips isn’t working now, hasn’t worked in the past, and is just a bad strategy for asking people to follow Christ.
Jesus had the power to capture man with the sword. If he wanted to conquer Rome he would have. Instead he chose to launch an insurrection of the heart.
Consider this, fair reader, from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.
I chose to engage my friends and neighbors on issues of the heart, engaging in the insurrection instead of battling in and endless war on media we cannot, will not, nor should win.