A couple years ago my best friend and I, along with two gift cards, headed over to Disney Springs to experience The VOID, a fully immersive interactive virtual reality (VR) simulation experience themed to either Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph or Star Wars intellectual properties.
We had been wanting to go for sometime and were excited to see how VR tech was making headwinds into the consumer leisure space.
We chose the Star Wars track and soon enough found ourselves strapped into Stormtrooper costumes, fully prepped for battle.
Our armor consisted of a 360 degree VR helmet, a fake gun and some body plates. Our mission? Infiltrate a compound and locate Darth Vader.
So we set out, blasters in hand! During the next twenty or so minutes we trekked around a large maze inside a warehouse so to speak, but of course through our helmets we saw only a science fiction world.
Overall, sub-par graphics notwithstanding, it was pretty intense. Enemies would shoot us and our breastplate armor would vibrate.“Tech altered the way we saw, experienced and thought about something. What someone had programmed had influenced us.”
When we fired our guns we felt recoils, and when we walked around we felt different effects like heat and wind coming from fixtures set up in the real world rooms we ventured through during the experience.
The whole experience was far more immersive than we ever thought it’d be. For example, at one point I found myself afraid to step onto a moving platform for fear of falling into a lava pit below. It sounds silly, but I thought it was real.
However, the most interesting thing about The VOID wasn’t that we fell prey to fake feelings and imaginary surroundings. We expected that might happen.
The thing that took us most by surprise were the memories we walked out of The VOID with and that we took with us.
We hadn’t anticipated the impact that fake memories would or could have on us. Even today we joke, “Remember that time we faced Darth Vader on the lava planet and I almost fell in?!”
It sounds funny, and at one level it is. It was just a ride, an amusement, it didn’t really happen…or did it?
Its hard for us to articulate, but having virtual memories is a strange thing because we know the event didn’t really happen.
At least, it wasn’t seemingly real enough for us to fully buy into it. Yet it was real enough to provoke real memory emotions.
Suffice to say, the whole experience left us thinking about what it would have been like if the “experience” was more real and involved real world things and people.
Regardless, none of it was real, and therein lies the problem. We applied real emotional responses to fake things. To this day we have memories of things that were fake, but that we remember as real.“Technology and the world around us are changing the way we think, and in some instances they are doing the thinking for us. That’s a problem.”
Tech altered the way we saw, experienced and thought about something. What someone had programmed had influenced us.
Essentially, we stopped thinking about what was really going on and got duped into thinking something fake was real.
The thing is, you don’t have to put on a VR helmet and snipe at Vader to have tech influence the way you think.
In fact, contemporary technology has a way of influencing us in much more subtle ways, and it all starts by changing how we think.
Technology and the world around us are changing the way we think, and in some instances they are doing the thinking for us. That’s a problem.
Now, if you think this is the stuff of science fiction or intellectual gymnastics, think again.
As this article continues, we’re going to look at ways in which the contemporary world, technology and society are changing the way we think, including why that matters and how Christians can respond.
Created to Think
God created men and women as autonomous, thinking individuals with free wills. To be sure, we are ultimately under the sovereignty of God, yet we make choices, decide and have free agency.
In fact, the choices we make work in harmony with God’s plans. Yes, this is paradoxical to us because we are not God and cannot fully comprehend the correlation between free will and God’s sovereignty.“God wants you and I to think – to reason and decide.”
However, what we do know is that God ordains and moves all things forward while at the same time allowing his creation free agency. (Prov. 19:21, Jer. 10:23, Col. 1:20)
The point is, God wants you and I to think – to reason and decide. (Is. 1:18)
For example, Paul “reasoned” with the Jews and Gentiles at Corinth. (Acts 18:4) God commands us to be still and know that he is God. (Ps. 46:10) God’s word is taught. (2 Tim. 3:16) We have to seek after God and think on things that are good. (Prov. 8:17, Phil. 4:8)
In addition, we have to understand what the will of God is. (Eph. 5:17) And we cannot properly contend for the faith without knowing the Bible and God. (Jude 3) Also, questioning God in order to understand him better (in the vein of Nicodemus) is vital for spiritual growth. (John 3:4)
Therefore, every important factor of the Christian life involves thinking – salvation, sanctification, preaching, teaching and especially wisdom and discernment. God gave us the very Gospel itself that we may know that we have eternal life. (1 Jn. 5:13)
In fact, the things of God are spiritually discerned and no one can know them fully until he or she is saved. (1 Cor. 2:14) Again, the point is, God created us to think.
Regrettably, it is becoming easier than ever to put our minds on autopilot. The contemporary world, especially in the developed West, is both hindering and stunting man’s ability to think, reason and decide through technology and rapid social change.
Now before you read on allow me a few clarifications. This article is not intended to be a clarion call for mankind to return to living in a disconnected, pre-technology world. To live fully in the past makes us ineffective and ill-equipped to reach current generations with the Gospel.
Second, it’s not a diatribe meant to eviscerate progress or to stoke hesitation toward anything that is new.“The contemporary world, especially in the developed West, is both hindering and stunting man’s ability to think, reason and decide through technology and rapid social change.”
Lastly, the examples herein are not normative, i.e. they don’t represent everyone everywhere.
In fact, they probably most closely speak to those in urbanized Western countries with large economies and internet access, but that’s a lot of people nonetheless, and its estimated that over the next several decades no spot on earth with be without internet access.
Still, the modern world’s effects on us vary. I’m not saying we’re all robot zombies walking around doing the bidding of whatever our overlords or devices dictate.
But what I am saying is that we need to be aware of the world we live in, including principally how technology and contemporary social constructs are impacting our ability to think. If this article does that than mission accomplished.
Now, lets jump in!
Living in a Self-Reliant World
To say that the world we live in is vastly different from that of ancestors is neither a vast understatement nor an exercise in hyperbole.
One of the major reasons for this is that, compared to every other historical epoch, we no longer appear to be controlled by nature nor do we feel subject to the natural world.
Except in cases of unanticipated natural disaster we don’t bend to nature, nature bends to us. We’re essentially like gods. In our estimation we’ve mastered the natural world.
We can work at all hours. Long distance travel and telecommunication are rules not exceptions.“Unlike our ancestors, many today fail to believe in things external to themselves. For us, meaning is often found in achievement, progress, subjective feelings, emotions and what our heart tells us is true.”
While this might all sound terrific, and a lot of it is certainly beneficial, in such a world it’s quite easy to get out of touch with reality.
For instance, we don’t face death nearly as much as our ancestors and thus have a very hard time dealing with it.
Plus, an endless buffet of distractions lets us avoid the more challenging aspects of life.
All of this is exacerbated by the fact that we live in a sort of hyper humanistic society where God is touted as dead and progress is all that matters.
Churches used to be the highest points in towns and cities. These were the most important architectural features of man-made landscapes. Then it became banks, money, skyscrapers. Now cell towers are the highest points in most places. Information and connectivity are what we value most today.
Also, unlike our ancestors, many today fail to believe in things external to themselves. For us, meaning is often found in achievement, progress, subjective feelings, emotions and what our heart tells us is true.
For our ancestors truth was found in things external to oneself, namely in God. For us, meaning is found internally.
The underlying theme in all of this is that mankind has continued to become more self-reliant as time has gone by.
And our self-reliance has deluded us into believing that we alone have the answers to all of life’s pressing and complex challenges which in turn has caused us to relinquish our right to think.
But don’t take my word for it. The evidence is all around us.
Addicted to Ourselves
The contemporary West is not just more self-reliant than ever before, it is also more self-obsessed than at any point in human history – there are more ways for us to showcase our self-obsessed nature than ever before.
And no, I’m not just talking about people’s tendency to be their own personal paparazzi today a la selfie.“Our self-reliance has deluded us into believing that we alone have the answers to all of life’s pressing and complex challenges which in turn has caused us to relinquish our right to think.”
There are much more subtle things that feed our hunger for all things self, and all of them are hindering our ability to think.
There are the obvious culprits of course, things that simply stop our thinking because they take up our time by keeping us addicted to constant digital “hits” of information.
Product recommendations and ads show us everything we want to buy based on our search and browsing history.
Phones blink colors and ping sounds to notify us to check them. Haptics, phone easels and pop sockets do their part to keep us on our devices.
Online shopping sites’ complex algorithms, flash sales, coupons and constantly fluctuating prices keep us endlessly browsing and ingratiating our self-obsessions. Its like a sort of retail therapy on steroids.
Bet you didn’t know that search engine optimization (SEO, which is optimizing web pages for visits based on keywords and metadata) is based around the notion that most people “selfishly search” for things on the internet.
Think about it, why do you usually search for something? We want to find something pertinent to us and we want to find it fast. If the things we search for are irrelevant or slow to locate, we get mad, and SEO does too.
Regardless, there are billions of sites out there which all contribute to a “too much of everything” culture.
There is simply too much of everything today, and this leads us to make decisions for irrational reasons – either because we fear missing out or because we are overwhelmed at the choices before us.
Thus we make snap decisions just to keep from getting bogged down – decisions that require thought suddenly go without a second thought. “The contemporary West is not just more self-reliant than ever before, it is also more self-obsessed than at any point in human history.”
Then there are news sites that leverage click bait – compelling headlines that have nothing to do with an articles content. These cause us to make decisions and form opinions on important topics in milliseconds.
They also get us caught up in distant drama; things that we never would have worried about in a less connected world now influence us.
Even our healthcare wearables (smartwatches, wristbands, etc.) make us addicted to fitness and nutrition. They tell us how often to stand, run, jump all while sending a stream of biometric data to global databanks for storage.
Social media, the ultimate bragging platform, is designed to keep you in a state of unending scroll as your peruse a seemingly unending stream of perfect lives strewn across the screen in all their photoshopped glory, and with pixels that perfectly capture illusions of domestic bliss while simultaneously dredging up tinges of inadequacy and jealousy in our hearts as we compare our lives to the lives of others.
What about travel? There’s nothing like the open road right? Surely we can think for ourselves along the highways and byways.
Unfortunately, map apps often dictate our commutes. They even suggest the most fuel-efficient paths.
Not to mention that as you travel along real time traffic data is captured from real time location data coming from your phone and millions of others.
Some even allow their car insurance providers to track their speed and other driving details to lower their monthly payments. Of course, the data has to go somewhere and your insurance company then gives you even more “suggestions” to manage how you drive in the process.
Dining has also been affected. Ordering food and dinner for curbside pick up is determined by the platforms that we use. What about what we watch on TV? Again, streaming services suggest what’s best.
Even what we write is aided by autocorrect, and grammar apps. What happens when such apps decide what words we can and cannot use? Food for thought isn’t it?“Never-ending streams of information, muti-tasking, and tech addiction stifle creativity, encumber deep work and restrict personal choice.”
The point is, we live in a world that is becoming increasingly device dependent and self-obsessed.
Serendipitous browsing has been crowded out by programmed suggestions, everything is tracked, tech addiction is the norm and all the while convenience and the “new” crowd out critical thinking and rational decision making.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, humans require clear and uncluttered minds for creativity to flourish and for well-thought out opinions to thrive.
Never-ending streams of information, muti-tasking, and tech addiction stifle creativity, encumber deep work and restrict personal choice.
Yes, some of the things mentioned thus far make life easier, more convenient and have their benefits, but we need to keep our minds in gear and not let the hyper fast world we live in erode our ability to think. We have to stop being addicted to ourselves, and becoming entranced with unreal worlds that mislead us.
Sadly, a lack of thinking has far reaching side effects. Such a way of life provokes us to forget God, to rely on ourselves and to put our trust in man’s progress.
The macro-level recertifications of these effects is problematic to say the least.
When a World Forgets God
The rate of change in the modern world is faster than ever and keeps increasing exponentially because we accept the new readily today and often without question.
In fact, early adoption is a hallmark of contemporary societies. Yet, this was not the norm throughout most of human history. Throughout time most new things and ideas were historically met with skepticism.
Did this delay meaningful process at times? Sure, but it also protected and curbed harmful initiatives. Historically, skepticism was a check and balance against unwieldy power.“The rate of change in the modern world is faster than ever and keeps increasing exponentially because we accept the new readily today and often without question.’
However, today its feels all but impossible to resist groupthink and following the “cult of the new.” One reason for this is because we have reached a point where there is, as we have already discussed, too much of everything.
There are too many choices for us to handle and things clamoring for our attention. Simply going out for a scoop of ice cream, deciding what book to buy, where to go on vacation or which thread count of sheets to buy have all become momentous ordeals.
Communication has also taken a hit from our hyper-fast, endless choice, ultra-connected world.
We like to tell ourselves that always being connected to others is a good thing. We wax poetic about how modern tech and the internet enable us to talk to people and “keep in touch” with others we’d never keep in touch with in a less connected world.
But let’s be real. First, we wouldn’t have to communicate to people halfway across the globe if we didn’t live in a world where family and physical presence and distance mattered.
Instead, for many today better jobs are more important than community, and people migrant constantly. Nowadays, taking up roots seems strange.
This helps explain the rise in Millennial communities that seem to over-emphasize community and the rise in workplaces that try to foster a sense of community within their companies.
Its not that any of these are necessarily wrong, but they are hollow replacements for family, neighbors and local churches which all minister to our God-given social natures.
Second, would we ever contact such people anyway? Be honest. It’s great that social media has enabled you to be connected with your long lost cousin half-way across the world, but is that connection worth you being on social media?
Thirdly, our contact info is available everywhere today; if someone desperately needs to reach you they can.
The challenge is that a myriad of communication channels and rampant interconnectivity overwhelms and confuses us.“For many today better jobs are more important than community, and people migrant constantly. Nowadays, taking up roots seems strange.”
Each communication channel we use has its own priorities that tech companies try to have us realize by using them.
Not to mention that each mode and channel of communication today has its own house rules and norms that often very from person to person.
How many times has someone told you, “I prefer to be contacted this way.” This causes us to have to remember how each person wants to be communicated with including when and how.
Moreover, we tend to read text as we hear it in our minds. For example, a message we type might sound nice to us but rough to the receiver. Its easy to offend someone in a world where most communication has no context.
And don’t forget timeliness. If it takes someone too long or too soon to get back, we worry.
This of course bleeds into the realm of “ghosting” and “flaking.” Both of these are rampant with Millennials and Gen-Z especially who utilize a digital wall to overcommit and then back out by just disappearing or by opting out at the last minute.
Then of course comes the eerie notion that grammar apps and autocorrect are influencing what we actually say, and that search engine optimization (SEO) tells us what to write and how to write it in order to attract reader attention.
However, a lack of healthy skepticism, true community and communication breakdowns are just some of the hallmarks of the overly self-reliant and self-obsession world we live in.
For example, having hundreds of connections isn’t exactly all it’s cracked up to be.
Most of the “friendships” we have online, sad as it may be for us to admit, are just fair whether friends who we contact only when we need something or when we feel guilty for going too long without talking to them.
Also, while the internet can and does at times bring us together, that’s an exception to the rule. The internet actually divides more than it brings together because it creates echo chambers, and vacuums where groups gather based on hyper-specific commonalities. The internet also gives everyone a voice.
Don’t get me wrong, being friends or in a group with like-minded people who share similar hobbies is pretty cool, but when it bleeds into areas not related to hobbies, such as politics and beliefs things can get nasty; remember people say things online they’d never say in person.
All of this creates a digital herd mentality that fosters polarizing opinions, and overreactions that leave discourse (and thought) on the curb.
Plus, merely being connected is not the same as experiencing connection. You can have one without the other.
It goes back to our hundreds of friends example above and to our former discussion on the modern world’s thirst for true and authentic community.
Sure, we’re connected to hundreds of followers but how many of them do we actually feel connection to? The digital world is strangely counterintuitive in this way.“We’ll never be able to think clearly in a world where we can’t know who we really are.”
We seem more connected than ever, but many times its just an illusion. So we wind up with even deeper cravings to belong.
But there are even current trends in the real world that make us lose our sense of belonging. Take automation for instance which removes the human element from daily tasks.
Curbside pickup, ghost kitchens, robot doctors, live chat with bots, and the list goes on – all of these lessen our sense of emotional investment with the real world.
Mankind inherently wants to be accepted and understood but that takes investment in the physical world.
It takes real human to human physical interaction. It takes communication with context, and it takes minds that think, decide and reason to build an authentic world.
If there is one thing however that has been scarified on the alter of self-obsession, self-reliance and modern progress, its been human identity.
As we’ll see next, the ability to think requires us to be grounded in a solid identity. Moreover, we’ll never be able to think clearly in a world where we can’t know who we really are.
“Personhood” is word that seems to have disappeared from our common vernacular, and it makes sense considering that – more than anything mentioned in this article thus far – identity confusion is the greatest challenge and side-effect of our tech saturated, hyper fast, and self-centered world.
Communication issues, a lack of belonging, quick adoption of the new, a lack of thinking for ourselves, a lack of community, constant migration, groupthink, loneliness, digital isolation – these all create a social void in the lives of individuals, and for many the only way to fill that void is through questioning and changing one’s identity.
Sadly, many today do not look to Jesus Christ for their identity. Instead, illusions of power and self-deception have led many to question and redefine (or re-imagine) what it means to be a person on their own terms apart from God.“Identity confusion is the greatest challenge and side-effect of our tech saturated, hyper fast, and self-centered world.”
Rather than address the underlying causes of gender confusion, we now believe we are better off making gender fluidity normal.
As a result the dictionary of personal pronouns only continues to grow, children are undergoing sex changes (which they regret later), others are taught as young as pre-school that there are no sexes, and gene manipulation seeks to alter who we are as people simply to appease our desire to be our own gods.
Then of course there is transhumanism which seeks to blur the line between man and machine. If things continue down the transhumanist road, challenges related to bioethics will only become more prominent for the human condition.
But you don’t have to be a transhumanist or advocate for a sex-less world to experience identity struggles.
For some, the side-effects of the contemporary world cause them to tie their identity into a virtual sense of self.
They use pixels and polygons to fabricate a world and identity that is only a cheap imitation of their actual self.
How many people slave away on Instagram and YouTube to find their identity? How many more will do so in the metaverse? And how many will do this without thinking it all through?
With so many fake personas, will we ever be able to conduct ourselves and think in the real world again? Will that even matter in the years and decades to come?“Our happiness isn’t really God’s primary concern. Our holiness is. He wants us to be like Jesus Christ, and to live our lives as he created us to be.”
What’s most sinister about all of this is that man’s search for his true identity is ultimately futile.
Transhumanism, the metaverse, gender fluidity – all of it appears to give us a sense of identity because at some level each makes us superficially happy.
But happiness is fleeting and man’s definitions for the best life are constantly changing.
Moreover, man’s search for his true identity forces him to keep telling and teaching himself to loathe who he was created to be – leaving him only to craft illusions of identity in order to be happy.
The thing is, our happiness isn’t really God’s primary concern. Our holiness is. He wants us to be like Jesus Christ, and to live our lives as he created us to be. (1 Pet. 1:14-16)
Nevertheless, many choose to live out their lives in a world where identity is a non-constant in order to appease themselves.
In such a world anything goes, and in a world where anything goes nothing is permanent – mankind is just a thinking-less snake eating his tail.
Conclusion – How to Think…Again
We’ve looked at a lot of heavy topics in this article as we’ve examined ways in which the contemporary world, technology and society are changing the way we think.
Again, the point of this exercise wasn’t to deride all forms of technology and progress. Nor was it meant as a giant scare tactic.
It was designed to bring awareness to the fact that we’re easily influenced and naturally curved inward.
Our sin nature, emotions and hearts cannot be trusted. (Jer. 17:9) Only God can be trusted, but to trust and follow him involves thinking.
Many of the things that mankind is holding onto today for meaning and purpose have their roots in self-reliance and self-obsession.“Our sin nature, emotions and hearts cannot be trusted. Only God can be trusted, but to trust and follow him involves thinking.”
We aren’t skeptical, we’re above nature, and we’re essentially our own gods. As things keep progressing at a faster rate, many are blindly going with the flow.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we need order, routine and rest. God created them all. We can’t really handle being able to do everything all the time, its an illusion.
Moreover, the things the world promises us are just window dressing. There is no best life without God.
A world without God, that relies on man’s understanding alone, is a world that ultimately leads to ruin.
As much as we wish we can handle being our own gods, we can’t, we’re finite.
Too much of everything, fear of missing out, identity confusion, these are just some of the side-effects of a world that finds its purpose, meaning and satisfaction in everything but God.
So how to we get out of the mire? How do we think…again? The answer is both simple and complex.
First, we have to think for ourselves and from God’s Word. That’s easy right? Not exactly. Doing so can only be accomplished by untangling ourselves from the strictures of technological influence and social pressure to follow such influence.
That means confronting tech addictions, device dependency and even some modern “ways of life.” “Too much of everything, fear of missing out, identity confusion, these are just some of the side-effects of a world that finds its purpose, meaning and satisfaction in everything but God.”
It means allowing yourself the freedom to slow down and focus on what God wants for your life, not what your device or others are telling you is best for you.
Second, it means bringing every thought captive into the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)
It means doing the hard work of knowing scripture and then applying it to the gray matters of life. This is discernment at its core, and while it is difficult at times it is fully worth the effort.
Third, ask hard questions. Have a healthy skepticism for the “new.” Prove all things. (1 Thess. 5:21) Pray and ask God to show you truth and to fill you with his Spirit. Don’t just blindly accept what a headline suggests or a post quips about.
Fourth, always look at things through a lens that places human depravity and sin nature front and center.
This means guarding your own heart as much as it means being aware that not everyone else’s motives are always pure either. (Jer. 17:9)
As John Calvin said, our hearts are a “factory of idols.” Understanding that everyone is naturally sinful, including yourself, means being aware of sin and being humble. (Rom. 5:12)
Fifth, commit yourself to grow up in Christ. (Eph. 4:15) And as you become more like Christ through the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work, you will avoid being double-minded and tossed to and fro by every passing fancy or new trend. (Eph. 4:14, Jas. 1:6)
Lastly, all of these attributes can only manifest themselves when you allow yourself to be equipped with an understanding of God’s doctrines, attributes and Word which can all only come from a mind that thinks, reasons and decides.
God wants you and I to think, he created us that way. Have you thought about who you will ultimately serve? Will it be man or the Lord Jesus Christ? (Josh. 24:15)
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