Developing Wisdom for the Digital Age

June 12, 2017

Complexity requires wisdom. Since the beginning, life has continued to increase in complexity at a more rapid pace. Each societal, cultural, or technological change requires wisdom for how to navigate the new, more complex world.

We used to have decades, or even centuries, to develop a base of wisdom through living and thinking deeply. But that world no longer exists.

The pace of wisdom and technology

Remarking on this in the preface to his book The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch writes, “…the pace of technological change has surpassed anyone’s capacity to develop enough wisdom to handle it.” I think his point is that technological change is coming much faster than we’re able to develop wisdom about how to react to it. And he’s right.

As I write this, it’s 2017 and both Google and Apple have already held their annual developer’s conferences. The central themes of both were artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). The iPhone was introduced a mere ten years ago in 2007 (along with Facebook and Twitter), kicking off the smartphone explosion which revolutionized the way humans interact with the world. But we’ve had little time to reflect on all that’s changed.

Think of how this has worked with something like social media. It used to feel like every 6 months a new platform would come out you’d have to be on. While you were still trying to learn Facebook all your friends were getting on Twitter. While you were learning Twitter you heard about this photo sharing app called Instagram everyone was loving. Then it was Snapchat. Next it’ll be some VR or AR platform. Each of these requires unique wisdom and discernment to use, but we’ve had next to no time to develop that wisdom – much less pass it along to the next generation.

That’s not to say there’s no wisdom for navigating these spheres, but there is significantly less wisdom for using Twitter than, say, driving a car. Both require some amount of skill and competency, and both can be quite dangerous, though in different ways.

Becoming desensitized to the promises of technology

Perhaps more dangerous than the speed of technological change is that we’ve become used to the pace and no longer wait to evaluate whether or not a new development actually delivered on its promises. Crouch writes, “We are stuffing our lives with technology’s new promises, with no clear sense of whether technology will help us keep the promises we’ve already made.” Facebook ballooned to the social behemoth it is today before we could think through the ramifications of consolidating so much of the world’s attention on one company’s view of what’s most important.

Now, maybe more than ever, the church needs people who will think deeply about the world around it. That world is changing faster than ever before, and if we’re not careful it’ll be like finding ourselves in a hole of our own digging. We’ll climb out, eventually. But it would have been much easier to stop digging the hole so deep to begin with.

A call for wisdom (and courage)

So this is a call for wisdom, which is really a call for courage. The world has changed quicker than anyone expected. But we can’t continue to idly accept the latest Silicon Valley offering without thinking deeply about it. We need the courage to be different, to ask tough questions, to be late adopters, or even to opt out entirely of certain forms of technology. But we can’t get there unless we cultivate technological wisdom rooted in theology.

I’ll be sharing more on this subject here in the days ahead, including more writing on the subject and sharing more resources that are helpful in developing a deeper understanding of the digital tech landscape.