WeeklyTech #144

Following Jesus in a Digital Age

On August 30th, my new book Following Jesus in a Digital Age will be released with B&H Publishing. It is available for pre-order now at most major retailers. I am really grateful for the entire team at B&H, including my editor Ashley Gorman and my publisher Devin Maddox who first encouraged me to write this book given the growing concerns about the role of technology in our lives and questions about how Christians might think through these ethical issues through the lens of biblical wisdom.

One of the most common questions I receive from readers and podcast listeners is what does the Bible actually say about technology. This question can’t really be addressed by looking up social media, algorithms, or the internet in your concordance. It can be easy for the Church to believe that technology might be an issue we will need to address at some point but that it isn’t a pressing concern for people today. Part of this apathy may stem from the belief that the Bible really doesn’t address the questions we are asking today in our digital society such as the formative nature of social media, questions of content moderation and privacy, how truth is being redefined, or how many of us seek to craft our identities online through these tools.

But in recent years, there is a growing concern about what technology, specifically social media, might be doing to us and how it might be altering our perception of God, ourselves, and the world around us. MIT Technology Review reported last fall that in October 2019 that troll farms — often based in Eastern Europe — operated all 15 of the top Christian American pages on Facebook — with the largest of the pages reaching over 75 million U.S. users per month. To put it another way, many Christian tend to spend at most 10-15 hours a week focused on the Bible, church meetings, small groups, and discipleship. But what is with us nearly 24 hours a day, never leaving our side? Our phones and devices.

Back in the fall of 2020, I was asked to write a review at The Gospel Coalition of a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, which focused on the formative nature of technology and served as a wake-up call for many to the power and influence of algorithmic technology. As I thought about how technology is discipling and shaping us in profound, yet subtle ways, I began to think about what a book project might look like addressing these questions from a distinctly Christian perspective. 

While I agree with much of the film’s critique and evaluation of these tools, especially social media, some of the proposed solutions seemed to miss the mark and many seemed to me might actually intensify the problems we face today. This intensification reminds me of the famous quote from the Canadian philosopher George Grant in his well known work, Technology and Justice, where he writes that we tend to believe that  “more technology is needed to meet the emergencies which technology has produced.” In the midst of cultural chaos, we often turn toward technology to solve the very problems brought on by the technology itself as some decry that we need more moderation or better technology in order to solve the apparent divides in our society.

Following Jesus in a Digital Age was written for the everyday believer, not specifically for academics or even ministry leaders. It was written for the Church to aid believers in thinking wisely about technology through the lens of Scripture and to expose how these tools are shaping how we perceive the world around us. The book is designed to help us understand the deeply formative nature of technology that is not just simply a tool we choose to use in whatever way we want. In reality, we don’t use technology as much as it uses us. Technology is a tool but one that is discipling us in very distinct ways as part of a larger culture. The book is built upon this expanded view of technology and with a call to cultivating biblical wisdom for our digital age. Wisdom is not just good advice, but is a combination of a rich understanding of how God has revealed himself to us (theology) and how he calls us to live in light of those truths (ethics).

Each subsequent chapter focuses on a major way that technology is discipling us in terms of truth, responsibility, and identity in subtle yet distinct ways. Our tools are altering our perception of truth, especially with the rise of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fake news, as well as how we must take responsibility for our actions and how we craft our identity in modern society — both as followers of Christ and members of his body, the Church.

I would be honored if you would consider pre-ordering a couple copies — one for yourself and one as a gift to a friend, family member, church member, or fellow leader. You can pre-order a copy at most major retailers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lifeway, Walmart, or wherever else books are sold.

Also, if you are interested in working through the book as a group, you can purchase bulk copies through Lifeway and make sure to keep an eye out for the Bible study version with 6 video sessions and a workbook out this December with Lifeway Adults.

The Rundown

The Digital Republic by Jamie Susskind review – why the west was no match for the tech giants – John Naughton | The Guardian

The power of tech corporations is a threat to democracy, yet governments are reluctant to take action. This refreshing book picks apart the ideology that holds them back

The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of – Zeyi Yang | MIT Technology Review

Hikvision could be sanctioned for aiding the Chinese government’s human rights violations in Xinjiang. Here’s everything you need to know.

China’s Surveillance State Is Growing. These Documents Reveal How. – Muyi Xiao, Paul Mozur, Isabelle Qian and Alexander Cardia | The New York Times

A New York Times analysis of over 100,000 government bidding documents found that China’s ambition to collect digital and biological data from its citizens is more expansive and invasive than previously known.

The Bookshelf: Reading While Parenting – Jamie Boulding | Public Discourse

Finding time to read is always challenging, particularly within the context of being a new parent. Instead of conventional, and often ineffectual, time management strategies, we might consider some alternative principles to help incorporate reading into our busy lives: ritualistic reading, whimsical reading, and even acknowledging the value of not reading.

Instagram cracks down on young users who lie about their age – Margaret Harding McGill | Axios

Social media giants are grappling with how to determine with certainty the age of their visitors to both evade regulatory crosshairs and create safer online experiences for children.

When “you are wrong” becomes “you are evil” – John Inazu | *Some Assembly Required Blog

In recent years, I’ve noticed a shift from calling one’s political opponents “wrong” to calling them “evil.” It happens most often in the absence of actual relationships.