March 13, 2017 Jonathan Evans

Liberating constraints for technology

Liberating constraints
Imagine if the law of gravity were unpredictable. You might be just sitting down to eat when your food begins to elevate. Or you’ve nearly won a marathon and suddenly you’re floating away. Of course, if you knew when it would be suspended you might be prepared for it. But the unpredictability of it all would be a great hindrance and annoyance to living. 
 
Or if the sun decided to rise at whim. You might have days where your planned trip to the beach or to the park must be cancelled. You may get to sleep at 10:00 pm after a long hard day’s work only for the sun to suddenly burst through your window. 
 
In nature there is order. There are laws or boundaries that restrain yet release us, free us, to live as we should. We are thankful for these liberating constraints.
 
But not only in nature. In our health we are constrained as well. Becoming tired and needing sleep is unavoidable yet welcome. Without the required amount of sleep our bodies need, we would not be able to function rightly or fully the next day. Our bodies can only go so long without proper rest and care and food. You don’t have a choice in the matter, if you “choose” to survive.
 
Work and vocation involve boundaries and responsibilities that you can’t choose to ignore. Or you can, but if you do, you lose your job. In school and education there are constraints and requirements. Show up, listen, think, study and you receive wisdom and knowledge. Don’t and you won’t. 
 
In creating we find more of the same. A sailboat is built to strict specifications and guidelines. Constraints of laws and rules. If followed, these constraints liberate the boat to sail with the wind on the water with the greatest of freedom. However, the boat would not function as it should on a highway. The rules of the highway and the rules of the water are not interchangeable. 
 
And in relationships we are constrained and bound by commitment and trust and forgiveness and integrity. If even one is missing, a relationship can begin to “go off the rails” laid down for its good.
 
It seems to me that no area of our life is or can be without constraints of some kind, if that area of life is going to grow and flourish. Certainly this includes how we daily live with and use technology. 
 
How useful technology is and how needful it is may no longer be open to question. Technology has not only built what we know but has built itself into what we know, into even what we feel we need. 
 
On the one hand, the internet has been declared “a basic human right” by the United Nations Humans Rights Council, so that smartphones are a necessity to making our lives better. While on the other hand, we have the growing (un)realization that “you are your phone,”. Because your phone has become an extension of you, you find it difficult if not near impossible to function in life without it.
 
The balance between “not at all” and “all the time” is difficult to find. In fact, a 50/50 split is not realistic. But intention and attention can guide our use of technology and help us work towards a good balance. 
 
The truth is, you can use your device as much or as little as you want to, but you are going to abide by some set of rules or constraints of use. You are going to stop and putt down your device for some reason or other that demands of you to do so. Even if you use it without a thought of putting it down, and are content to be on it all day, sooner or later the constraints of nature, health, work, or relationship will get your attention. 
You’ll be late for work, be unfocused, be unprepared, be irritable, be sloppy. You’ll spend your classes daydreaming, dozing, or ignoring what is taught. You’ll spend your conversations with your kids or your wife ignoring what they’re trying to tell you, again. When, not if, you do run up against these constraints, the results may inflict great harm. Like driving fast around a curve in wintry conditions with limited visibility, you can both ignore and not ignore the rules/boundaries/restraints/constraints of nature and body, work and relationships. 
 
Learning—which requires initiative, humility and commitment— to identify and apply (submit to) the right constraints for our use of technology will  involve building new habits. It may mean having a weekly “tech free day” in your home—no devices. It may mean not getting on social media one or two days a week. It may mean beginning every year with a month of no social media. It may mean not checking your email after you leave the office. It may mean no devices at the table. It may mean no TV until after dinner. It may mean leaving your phone downstairs at bedtime. It may mean these and/or many other things. But it most certainly means using restraint and self-control, not giving up control. “Our devices we shall always have with us, but we can choose the terms.”
 
However, constraints mean something more than what they do. They signify and point to something beyond themselves, to what they exist for.
Constraints don’t exist simply to be constraints, any more than the sailboat exists simply to be a sailboat. The sailboat is created and exists to sail. The constraints in life are not there to be there. They’re there because we’re here. God in His wisdom has created us to live, and has determined through His wisdom how to guide us, if we will follow, into healthy and fruitful living in every area of life. Wisdom, though, cannot impose its will upon us anymore than we can impose our will upon it. We must take it or leave it, but if we leave it we will soon discover that we missed the mark
 
We can and must, then, seek how to live through God’s wisdom, in freedom with technology: a freedom not from boundaries, but from no boundaries. It is a rediscovering and receiving of those boundaries already present for us, present to us, given to us, so that we can enjoy every good thing that comes from God, things He has created apart from man and things He continues to create through man—created and creating in His own image. 
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