We should embrace every prop which drives us to deeper devotion, but remove every crutch which takes us away from giving God our hearts, and taking up our cross, daily.
Convenience can be a costly thing, and the assistance offered by technology can have an adverse effect on our ability to function as people. This is a truth well acknowledged in the wider world where the prevalence of apps, algorithms, and hacks can truncate our ability to order our own lives, or to hone our skills. It is also a claim which we would do well to take ownership of as Christians. As those living in the Western world, there has seldom been a more convenient time to be a Christian. The religious wars of a bygone age have enjoyed a long hiatus and, although we may fear the heavy clouds on our horizon, few in our culture have faced outright opposition for their beliefs. Added to that is the customisation of church and Christian literature, so that almost ever niche is covered and every need identified and ministered. The digital age has pre-packed our spiritual experience even more radically, with our need for nourishment, encouragement, affirmation, or worship little more than a click away.
It is easy to deride such consumerism, but an area given less attention is the short-circuiting of self-discipline. The advent of pocket sized technology, and of an age whose mantra has been ‘there’s an app for that’ has led many people to outsource the ordering of their lives to technological partners. Where once a personally written prayer list was curated and updated, we can now sync our supplication across all of our devices. Where the margins of Bibles were marked with moments of personal weight, we now have ‘in-app’ notebooks which hold and host our most intimate thoughts on a passage of Scripture. The fact that such a list can be populated with regard to almost every area of personal piety is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is good to reflect on unintended consequences and costs that might be entailed in this behaviour. In this post I want to think through the danger of ‘inter-passive’ piety, the tendency that technology can nurture in us to ‘do’ some things with regard to our weals with God, without really engaging with them.
Programming the VCR
In her sparkling account of our ability and proclivity to willingly ignore certain facts, A Passion for Ignorance, Renata Saleci helps her readers to think through some of the impact of Big Data on our daily lives, showing along the way our unwillingness to really accept what we are giving away of ourselves. In the process she touches on the psychological theme of ‘interpassivity’. Although holding wider connotations, one of the facets of interpassivity most recognisable to us is the ability to use technology as proxy for doing things in our stead. The example that Saleci cites is that of setting up an old style VCR to record movies that the user never watches. This interpassive behaviour allows the user to abdicate a personal commitment while persuading themselves that they have in some way simply deferred it or even fulfilled it. A mountain of recorded movies, or a pile of invoices for a gym neither makes us a film buff nor physically buff, but they both give a sense that something has been done or will be done.