John Bradshaw - The Dangers of Technology
This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. In the early 1800s, an English woman named Mary Shelley had a contest with her future husband and another man to see who could write the best horror story. A few years before, she had traveled in Germany near Frankenstein Castle, which is near the city of Darmstadt. It seems that Mary was influenced by stories about Frankenstein Castle, and so she wrote the story of "Frankenstein".
In Mary Shelley's novel, a scientist working in a laboratory creates an 8 feet tall being that ends up being described as a monster. It's a story, ultimately, about science gone wrong. A scientist or alchemist attempts to create something, and things don't work out as intended, as he works with the technology of his day. The story was a cautionary tale. Technology can come with unintended consequences. And it seems that today, society seems to have created another Frankenstein's monster. Technology has given the world some wonderful things. The Industrial Revolution, that was technology. Today, modern medicines do a great amount of good. Modern transport, it's incredible.
Now, you could argue that there's a downside to some of these things, but there's also a gigantic upside. Modern technology has given us computers. Today, we're able to access information anywhere in the world from virtually anywhere in the world, any time we like. That's good, right? You can watch whatever you want to watch, whenever you want to watch it, from the privacy of your own private space. That's good, too, right? Today you can type messages in moments, send them to anyone anywhere. You can post photos to photo-sharing websites, broadcast video of whatever you're doing, wherever you're doing it, to the whole world, if you want, whenever you'd like to do so. You no longer need to be a newspaper publisher to share your point of view with everybody on the entire planet. That's good...right?
Well, we know it isn't always good. And we're coming to understand more and more that, in many cases, it's actually positively harmful. When an Englishman named Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web early in the 1990s in Geneva, Switzerland, it's doubtful that anyone anywhere realized what it would become only a few short years later. And it's probably fair to say that most people who use the internet and modern technology today don't realize what it really has become. There's no question modern technology provides great opportunities. It's how you're able to watch this, and I'm glad you're able to. Technology is used to promote good values and to share positive messages and to proclaim the gospel.
That's good. But it seems that when it comes to modern technology, every silver lining has a dark cloud. Today's generation is the first generation in history to be connected to a constant stream of electronic information and entertainment. And while that might seem like a silver lining in many ways, that constant stream of temptation, the constant access to sin, is a very dark cloud. Today's young people have to grow up in a world where being liked means something slightly different to what it meant a generation ago, and the pressures that come along with that are impacting the lives of young people, and the lives of not-so-young people, in a very, very real way. Society is now wired. Or more to the point, it's wireless.
Whereas television decades ago brought the world into the living room, smartphones bring the world into your pocket. And it's a different kind of world, a world where there are virtually no controls. And what's the constant connection with the internet doing to us as individuals? How's it challenging people of faith who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ? And what's it doing to society? Websites today offer you anything you want. And a lot of things that you really don't want. It's no secret that there's some dark content on the internet. Unfortunately, it's eminently accessible, even to children. I spoke with one young lady, who shared with me just how easy it can be for children to access the sort of content that parents don't want their children seeing.
Kyla Steinkraus: I took my family to church, um, myself, my husband, my 12-year-old son, and my 7-year-old daughter. And I took my daughter to go to the bathroom, and I left my son in the back row. My husband was volunteering in the audio-visual department, which is a back room that has a glassed-in window, um, but he was not directly with my son at the time. And when I came back a few minutes later, after taking my daughter to the bathroom, um, I found my husband with a tablet and a 10-year-old boy, and he was very upset. So I asked him what happened, and he said that the 10-year-old boy had just shown my son pornography on his tablet, at church.
John Bradshaw: In church?
Kyla Steinkraus: Yes, in church. And I was so, so upset I was shaking. It took me a minute to really, for it to sink in. It was definitely a very negative experience, a very saddening experience. Your child loses some of their innocence at that point, and it was, it was a hard thing to go through.
John Bradshaw: So how'd this happen?
Kyla Steinkraus: The 10-year-old boy had the tablet, and he came over and sat by my son and his friend and said, "Here, I want to show you something," and he pulled up the pornography on his tablet and showed it to the boys. And to their credit, both boys said, "No, we don't want to look at this". But the 10-year-old then shoved it in their faces and said, "No, I want you to see this". My husband, who was in the A/V, um, heard the commotion and looked through the window and saw that something was happening, saw the boys trying to push the tablet away. And so when he came out and saw what was on the tablet, he got very upset and took it immediately. And that's the point where I came in. And I took the boy aside and said, "You're 10, you know. You're 10 years old. How did you even get pornography? Like, what happened"? And that's when he told me that he had an Instagram account, and a pornography company had created a profile page with, um, a picture of a beautiful scantily-clad woman, who then went and searched for this young boy's profile, or, well, they were searching for kids and found him and was posting little comments under his pictures. And so, as a curious kid, he clicked on it to see what it was, and it took him directly to pornography, unfortunately.
John Bradshaw: I think that's something many parents don't realize, is that there are predators, individuals or sites or companies, or whatever they might do, that are coming after your kid. They don't care who the kid is, just as long as they can get access and then groom the child. It's very intentional what's going on, right?
Kyla Steinkraus: Yes, correct. I know an 11-year-old girl who had an adult child predator pretend to be another 11-year-old boy and start chatting with her, and over time said that he wanted to be her boyfriend, and then asked her to send pictures of herself to him, and then asked her to send nude pictures of herself to him, which she did.
John Bradshaw: She did, 11 years old?
Kyla Steinkraus: She did, at 11 years old.
John Bradshaw: Well, well, let me ask you. So this 11-year-old that you know of, uh, was she that kind of kid? Is she the sort of kid that a person might say, someone who knows her say, "Yeah, well, she'd do something like that"? Or, totally out of the blue?
Kyla Steinkraus: No, it was very out of the blue. She was just in fifth grade, very innocent, had never had a boyfriend before. She was very childish, very young. It was totally shocking and unexpected, and out of the blue, and the parents were devastated.
John Bradshaw: I think that's a really important point, and, uh, forgive me for asking the way I did, "was she that kind of kid"? I don't know how many 11-year-olds are that kind of kid, but you know there are some children you might say, "Yeah, well, it wouldn't surprise me if this child did something reckless". But what you're saying is this was a model child from a model family without any signs that she might do something, which is quite remarkable. It's quite a step from playing a game to... sharing those kind of photographs. How do you think then, and this means that any parent must realize that, that their family is at risk, under similar circumstance. How did that child get from A to B? How did that process take place?
Kyla Steinkraus: Well, I, you know, I hear it a lot where parents are. They, you know, they give their kids a smartphone, but they say, "Well, my kids are good kids". Uh, "My kids would never do that". Um, they'll, "They would never try to do that," or "They wouldn't be interested in that kind of thing". But the thing is, is that it's not that their kid is going out looking for that kind of stuff. That stuff is looking for their kid, and is, those companies, those child predators are hunting these kids.
John Bradshaw: So this 11-year-old child shared pictures that no parent wants an 11-year-old child sharing. What happens to those pictures?
Kyla Steinkraus: The parents did call the FBI, and it was an adult child predator who had targeted their daughter. But they were unable to recover the pictures, so the pictures are now part of the child pornography. They get shared among pedophiles and predators online...forever.
John Bradshaw: And that's not something that any parent wants to go through.
Kyla Steinkraus: No.
John Bradshaw: Or have their child go through.
Kyla Steinkraus: Yeah.
John Bradshaw: So, Kyla, let me ask you this. Parents are watching this, and they're thinking, "Oh my goodness". What should parents who are concerned, what should they do? What can they do right now to address the situation in their own experience, like right now?
Kyla Steinkraus: I think the number one most important thing that they could do right now is take away the smartphone. It really gives your kid unfettered access to everything. And gives predators unfettered access to your child. And it's not the coolest thing to do; it's not the easiest thing to do. But to me, my child's, your child's safety and your child's soul is the most important thing.
John Bradshaw: Kyla, thanks so much. I appreciate this a lot. We'll be back with more in just a moment.
Thanks for joining me on It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. It's a new age. Modern technology has changed the way that we do life. Now, you've seen people sitting together in a group, but everybody has their heads...down. They're gazing at their devices. Now, is that harmful? Well, no, not necessarily. But the potential for harm is huge. And that potential is being realized. Now, in a moment we're going to talk about social media, Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and Twitter and so forth. They are huge today. But there's a fundamental issue that we're going to discuss first. The internet has really brought with it the death of privacy. Now, privacy is a human right, recognized as such by the United Nations.
Now, you might think you're carrying a smartphone with you when what you're actually carrying with you is a... tracking device. You see, unless you've taken action, your smartphone tracks your movements. It keeps a record of everywhere you've been and of most things that you've thought or written. Your laptop or your smartphone almost certainly contains information that you don't want other people seeing. Take a look at your search history and then ask yourself how you'd feel if simply your search history was made public, and not because you've necessarily done anything illegal or immoral. Your devices contain an enormous amount of sensitive information about you, maybe health information or other personal or interpersonal information. What you post online, whether that be a photo or a comment or an opinion, becomes part of a permanent electronic record of your life.
Kids, or adults, for that matter, who post photos or conversations online ought to be asking themselves if what they are posting is what they would want a teacher or a grandmother to see. It's, it's a must to think that way. You see, even if you think that you've got nothing to hide, which may well be true, you've certainly got something to protect. Devices are often now a gateway to accounts, emails, personal information. Essentially, they're a gateway to a running history of your life. And you don't want people getting their hands on that. I talked with Michael Dinkins, an internet security expert at UTC, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and he shared with me some ways that people can protect themselves online.
Michael Dinkins: Well, first thing, in my opinion, is to become aware of what the "threat-scape" is. Uh, they need to understand fully what, what is the attack, uh, and what's coming at them. You need to use strong passwords. You need to, uh, upgrade your systems, make sure it has the latest operating system patches, latest search security patches. You should have different account names and different account passwords for every site that you go to. You have screen time for children, uh, that should be monitored, uh, because they can go anywhere. They need to understand that once you put something on a social networking site or even in a private drive space, once it's out there, it's out there, and it's out there probably forever. Take advantage of any convenience that you want to, but understand that whenever you embrace convenience, somebody else knows about it, you know. So, uh, you've just got to find that balance on how... invisible you want to be on the internet.
John Bradshaw: It comes as a terrible surprise to a lot of people to learn that their email service gives third parties the right to read their email, which is entirely legal because you checked off on fine print, which made it legal for that to happen. People give away a lot about themselves online. Now, again, only you can decide how much is too much. But research from Cambridge University has said that after you "like" just 10 Facebook pages, advertisers can get to know you as well as a colleague does. After 70 "likes," someone with that information can know you about as well as a close friend does. And after 150 "likes"? You've essentially given up as much about yourself as your parents know. Advertisers once thought that consumers would become desensitized to this lack of privacy, but studies show that the opposite appears to be happening. So what about social media and the effect it's having on your life and on society? And what does the Bible say that speaks to this? I'll be right back.
Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. The world has changed. Technology has rewritten the rules of engagement. Young people, especially, are being forced to grow up in a world that is radically different from the world their parents or grandparents grew up in. Temptation looks different today than it did in days gone by. Temptation now hunts for you, and your children or grandchildren. And it comes in more attractive ways than it used to. And that's by design. Social media sites were created by very bright people, whose intent was to get you to use their product as much as possible. In other words, they want to get you hooked.
It's interesting that in recent times, some of the people who took part in developing social media services like Facebook have expressed regret over what they created. Facebook's founding president has criticized the way that the company "[exploits] a vulnerability in human psychology" by creating what he called a "social-validation feedback loop". Another said he believed that social media was "eroding the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other". That same man said that he doesn't allow his children to use social media because of the way it deliberately hooks people to spend more and more time on those sites and to divulge more and more personal information about themselves. He said, "You don't realize it, but you are being programmed," saying that people have to decide how much of their intellectual independence they are prepared to give up.
A former Google executive said, "Our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are". And the technology obviously works. One piece of research said that the average millennial checks their phone... 157 times a day. A former Facebook executive said that social media sites are "exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology". And maybe here's the rub. One of the co-creators of the "like" button said, "If we're not vigilant... computers and mobile devices will guide our attention poorly". Think about that. The "like" button was created to exploit our desire to be affirmed or liked. You can easily see how it can lead a person to do or say or post things that later they might seriously regret. You know, people have been killed, people have died doing crazy things in an attempt to make content that they hoped would go viral. They wanted to be seen and noticed and liked.
Now, think of the spiritual ramifications of this. You've likely heard people say, "I go online. I go to Facebook or YouTube for just a few minutes. I just waste time scrolling through comments and clicking on links". You might have said that yourself. What is seen as a form of entertainment really is nothing less than an addiction for a whole lot of people. Now, there's another purpose of social media. One, they want to get you hooked to use their site. Secondly, think about this, Facebook, for example, isn't selling you social networking. They're giving that to you for free. What they're selling is information, your information, to other people. And how are they getting that information? You're giving it to them.
Now, again, you might not have a problem with this. It surely isn't illegal. But it tells you how careful you have to be to make sure that you're not sharing more about yourself than is appropriate, things that are not dangerous to share. So now, let's look at a few biblical principles to help guide us with modern technology. One, you want to live like you've got nothing to hide. To do that, you want to have nothing to hide. The internet has a way of sucking people into doing things that they might not otherwise do, and saying things they might not otherwise say.
So here are some Bible verses to keep in mind that can help you with this. Psalm 51, verse 10, David's prayer, he prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me". Second Corinthians 5, verse 17: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new". So you want to be fully given to Christ. There's a lot of garbage on the internet, in the media, in society. Only the power of God in your life is going to keep you from that. That's all. There's a lot of tawdry stuff online. Even reputable websites leave little or nothing to the imagination these days. There's very little that's hidden anymore. And that's a challenge for believers.
So remember what Paul wrote in Philippians chapter 4 and verse 8: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good [report], if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things". God says there are some things that shouldn't even be on your mind. There's no doubt modern technology has made it easier than ever before to encounter sin, and harder than ever to keep away from it. Technology has made it easier than ever to access sin and to access it privately. It's easier than ever to encounter meanness and hate. The internet is full of it. It's easier than ever to be victimized by others, even by people that you don't know.
What we need is the power of God to keep us away from where we shouldn't be and to keep us where we should be. It's essential that you know Jesus as a friend, so that you are validated by Him, and you don't feel the need to be validated by others online, chasing "likes" instead of pursuing the love of God. It's essential we're able to keep our lives in balance. Of course, you can have healthy relationships online, healthy interests online. But it's easy to become unhealthy. God is able to keep you where you need to be and want to be. We need the ability to say what we should and not to say what we shouldn't.
A lot of people have made their lives complicated by forgetting Proverbs 13, verse 3 when they go online. "He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction". If Solomon was writing that today, he might have said something about guarding the keyboard. And we need something that the Bible calls "temperance". Galatians 5:22 and 23 says this: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law". That word "temperance," that's what we would call self-control. I saw a definition of that, which said, "The virtue of one who masters his or her desires and passions, especially sensual appetites".
You see, what we need is surrender to the Holy Spirit. As the times change, temptations change with them, or at least temptation is brought to us in different ways. Revelation 14:12 speaks about the "saints, who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus". Technology has not made that unattainable. But it should make us realize that we need God; we need the Holy Spirit in our lives more than ever before. If you're struggling with this, God can help you. And He will. Ask God to be your strength; tell Him He must. Ask God to deliver you. And watch God work and experience God's power in your life.
Our Father in heaven, we know that modern technology brings temptation to us like never before. And look at us. We're just poor, weak people in need of Your help and Your strength. So thank You that You have pledged not to leave us and not to forsake us. We need Your assistance; we need Your power in this very real battle against sin, as presented to us in this modern age. Lord, I pray, protect us online and offline. Give us wisdom, self-control as we live our online lives. And I pray, Lord, that our primary pursuit would be Jesus. Teach us to love Your approval more than the approval of others. And keep us where we ought to be, even when our weakened, fallen hearts want to lead us in another way. Give us Your Spirit, that we are born again, and keep us in the center of Your will now and ever. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.