What Is the Cyber Effect? What You Can Do About It

What Is the Cyber Effect and What You Can Do About It

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Technology, social media, and the Internet can be redemptive instruments in the hands of individuals who want to do good and know how to accomplish those positive purposes practically. Of course, the implication in a fallen world is clear: technology in the hands of someone who does not have redemptive values can disrupt and do harm to their souls and those around them. We all have stories of technology’s misuse, which includes our tensions and temptations with social media, making it worth our time to ask the intrusive questions that might help us to consider more practically how to use technology redemptively. What is the cyber effect of technology on your soul? Do you have a practical plan to guard against the potential problems associated with technology, the Internet, and social media?

In This Series:

Many of my thoughts were influenced by Mary Aiken’s book, The Cyber Effect: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values—and What We Can Do About It. I give this book five stars and highly recommend you read it.

No Ten Tech Tips

I will not share a list of tips about how to curb your tech habits, e.g., cut the wifi off at night or place password protection on your child’s devices. That information is accessible to all of us. You may Google “ten helpful tips to [fill in the blank]” and find many options that will work for you. Each person and family is different, and I cannot speak to every individual or family dynamic. I recommend that you read what I have provided here, work through the questions, and then ask the Spirit of God to illuminate your mind about how to make specific, customized, practical applications to your life, family, and friends. What you need to do will be slightly different from me or your friends. Take this material seriously and be pneumatic; God will meet you at the level of your determination to change.

My goal is to challenge you about why you must address technology and social media use. If I cannot convince you why the cyber effect is potentially damaging to your soul and most crucial relationships, you probably will not carry through with whatever your “tech tips” happen to be. It would be like giving a person a workout routine for the gym because it’s the new year, and they are going through their “annual conviction” to make a change. If the unhealthy person does not believe their health is on the line, their long-term motivation to change will run out of steam by the end of January. My prayer is that we will go deeper than behavioral modification, as needful as that is (Matthew 5:30), as the Lord captures our hearts regarding this cultural contagion (Romans 8:13). If He does this for us, it will be the perfect spot to start thinking about how to apply good tech habits to our lives.

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When It Changed

Circa 1450, Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press to the world. Many people consider this event to be one of the most transformative inventions of the second millennium. His “moveable type machine” changed lives, cultures, and countries. Though books were already in print, the printing press made information accessible and brought people together for good and evil. In 2007, Steve Jobs gave us the mobile phone, which will go down in history as one of the high points of this millennium. Though the Internet was already here with its technologies, it was not until the iPhone that the culture sped up and changed exponentially. The pre-existing “handheld wannabes” were nice, but the iPhone made us cool—and craving for more. Some statisticians estimated in 2018 that over 5 billion people had mobile devices, and over half own smartphones. Nearly every family you know has at least one smartphone, if not more. Upward to 80% of homes in developed countries have personal computers.

But before I go dark about the dangers of devices, let me state clearly that we all benefit from technology. I’m not here to suggest it’s an utterly lousy idea, a big fail, and you should run from it. We have testimonies about the good things the Lord has done through technology. I’m not tossing the baby out with his iPhone. Our tech-dependent culture has been a positive advancement on all fronts, e.g., health services, financial institutions, academic environments, and businesses. When we began developing our business model in 2008, the over-arching question was, “How can we use technology redemptively? How can we take the gospel’s good news to the world?” We understood there was an “echo of omnipresence” in technology, and we hoped to capitalize on this means of grace for God’s glory and the transformative benefit of millions (Matthew 5:45).

Over a decade later, the Lord has positioned us to wrap the globe daily. Our site is a “big box store in cyberspace.” I call it our coffee shop or sanctification center. For example, we have a fully loaded Learning Management System (LMS) where we can train anyone in biblical counseling if they have Internet access. They never have to leave their homes. We also have millions of words in read, watch, and listen formats. You also have your lists of tech benefits for which you are grateful. You can shop online and wait for Amazon to appear on your doorstep. You don’t have to purchase stamps because you can pay bills online. Some people do not carry money because of credit and debit cards. You can make transactions with your watch. The benefits are plenty, and more are coming. But with all good things that the Lord has given His creation (Matthew 5:45), there are tendencies and temptations to use them selfishly and cruelly (James 1:14-15).

Can’t Study Fluid Events

One of the biggest problems with the Internet and technology is that you can’t study it properly because it’s an open-ended, ever-changing, fluid experience. The best studies happen after the event is over, and you’ve had time to digest it, measure the results, look at patterns, and give a thorough review of what happened so you can prepare and protect yourself from repeating history, especially our evil history. For example, 9/11 is an open-and-shut tragedy in our country. We can study it because it’s over. Thousands of research papers, books, forums, and boards figured out how we got to 9/11, how we responded to it, and its lingering effect. Pearl Harbor is another illustration of a studyable event. So is your childhood, as you reflect upon that closed period of your life to understand yourself more clearly. Once the event is over, you can begin collecting all the relevant data to see what you can learn about that unique historical phenomenon.

The Internet and technology are still active, fluid phenomena. We can’t fully understand moving targets. Before the iPhone, we barely had time to fall in love with the iPod and its walloping impact on the music industry. Then came the iPad, which begged for social media platforms like Facebook, and YouTube which used to be a thing with the teens, but they jumped to Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and beyond. Like frogs on lily pads, we’re jumping from one technological pond to the other at the speed of the Internet. Technology changes, new habits form, and we’re still trying to understand the effects of the last cool thing that we had to have. It will take at least another twenty years, if not longer, to figure out what we did to ourselves. But that does not mean we don’t know things today. Though the technology changes, the habits and their effects are somewhat measurable. The challenge for us will be if we do not allow what we already know to persuade us to change how we think about and use technology.

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Technology Reveals Us

I have interacted with thousands of people of every age, and technology has adversely affected them—to some degree. Some of them know it. Others do not. Some care. Others do not. The big idea for us is to understand at this juncture how the adverse effects of technology are symptoms, not the cause of our problems. James was forthright when he taught us that sin is not “out there somewhere” but in our hearts, making the effect of technology the symptom. Listen to our brother: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). Jesus was more succinct when He said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). James and Jesus quickly tied the external phenomenon—technology—to our hearts, the source of our problems. The iPhone, for example, reveals what’s happening in my heart.

James and Jesus want you to know that the primary problem is not technological but how these devices and platforms reveal the pre-existing conditions in our souls. If our hearts did not desire it, technology would not be able to lure us. A device is “just a device,” but if we crave it, we permit it to manage us; what you need will control you. For example, I’m not too fond of mayonnaise. I’ve never enjoyed the taste of it. It’s not a spiritual thing at all. It’s a taste thing. If I were to wallow in a pool of mayonnaise, there would be zero temptation to taste it or become addicted. The upside to this inside truth about our hearts craving the things of the world, even to our detriment, is that we can take the measure of an adult, child, or friend by the things they love. Their treasure reveals their hearts. When you see how much technology affects an individual practically, you get a snapshot of who they are internally. Here are a few illustrations.

  • The lady who has ongoing selfie shots as you scroll through her Facebook profile is revealing her heart. In no real-life context would she break out her photo album and show you twenty iterations of herself—unless she was a narcissist.
  • The child sequestered off in his room who does not socialize with his family reveals his heart. He is making a value statement about himself and his family.
  • The couple that goes on a date and stares at their phones testifies to everyone in the restaurant what they think of each other. Rather than double-dating with other humans, they bring their phones and “talk to their devices.”
  • When someone in a meeting with you checks their buzzing phone, they make a value statement about you. We teach our kids not to interrupt us because it’s not respectful. But we permit our phones to interrupt us.
  • A dad comes home from a long day at work and clicks on the TV or jumps on the Internet, a tablet, or a phone. Rather than engaging his family in real space, he zips off to cyberspace, leaving his family behind, eating his cyber-dust.

In these illustrations, there is always a “yes, but exception,” some of which are valid. But if that is our first impulse, we’re defending ourselves too quickly while missing the point, which could speak to where we are with all of this (Matthew 7:3-5).

Call to Action

  1. Why do you need a device? I’m asking a need question, not a desire question. Needing something is more potent than merely desiring it. For example, you desire ice cream but don’t need it.
  2. What are five positive reasons you need technology, social media, and the internet?
  3. What are five negative reasons you desire technology, social media, and the internet?
  4. Will you discuss the five negative reasons with someone you trust who will speak candidly with you?
  5. What one thing will you change about how you use the internet, technology, and social media, aiding you to become more like Christ?

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