Technological Alarmism Is Our Friend
I received an interesting e-mail from a reader, which I’ve slightly revised to protect privacy:
I’ve been contemplating many of the responses to the Benedict Option that have already been circulating. It strikes me that one piece of the argument for decline that people overlook–until you remind them—is the role of technology in tethering our children to the sinking hull of Western Civilization. Your alarmism about technology seems to reinforce the wishful belief that you are merely a troglodyte who wishes to return to an age without dentistry and indoor plumbing. “Dreher,” they say, “always and only looking backwards.”
But if you’re right about technology and the real and present threat it poses, the Ben Op diagnosis is close to unassailable.
I say this for two reasons. First, even for cultural progressives of the Damon Linker variety, addictive technology is a problem. If you haven’t heard it already, I point out today’s FreshAir interview yet (or read Adam Alter’s book) alerting their listeners to the alarming (!) truth about screen addiction and the rehab centers which have emerged in order to deal with the problem. (Funny thing, these centers look suspiciously Benedict Option-y.) When you hear the story of a high-achieving, athletic young man going on a 45 day World of Warcraft binge, you are forced to admit this addiction is a problem, whether you champion same-sex marriage or not.
The second reason is because Evangelicals of the visionless, “stay the course” kind are unwilling to look at the ubiquity of pornography usage and what it means for today’s children. I was at an event not long ago, comprised of highly educated Christian movers and shakers. At one discussion, pornography came up as an example. When a sweet woman with a PhD chimed in to make a point she said, “Well I don’t have enough experience with porn to speak authoritatively, but I would think…” the Evangelical next to me turned to me in shock to whisper, “Did she just admit to using pornography?”
Really? That’s what you’re paying attention to? And that’s a shock to you? Or an egregious breach of decency? To me that signaled a profound disconnect between this guy—a college professor—and reality. Does he not realize how popular Game of Thrones is? Or that there are salacious ads on nearly every Facebook quiz these teens take? Will he be shocked to realize that teens use the internet to watch TV and movies illegally?
Of course he knows. He just doesn’t want to put 2 and 2 together to make 4.
Which brings me to one last point of encouragement. Whatever flak you get for the Benedict Option is worth it. This discussion needs to happen. I think it can be implied in your interview with Al Mohler that Evangelicalism is not ready for this discussion, but it’s overdue. I spoke last year to a high school headmaster, a man with decades of Christian private school experience. After hearing him pontificate of what he thought education was, how he saw Christian schools preparing, forming, and challenging the students spiritually, I asked him why he thought so many young adults these days did not remain in the church. He replied, “I haven’t really thought about it.”
Something needs to wake these people up. I think that’s what alarms are for.
From The Benedict Option‘s chapter on technology:
When parents hand their children small portable computers with virtually unlimited access to the Internet, they should not be surprised when their kids—especially their sons—dive into pornography. Unfortunately, with boys at least, it’s in the nature of the hormone-jacked beast. Moms and dads who would never leave their kids unattended in a room full of pornographic DVDs think nothing of handing them smartphones. This is morally insane.
No adolescent or young teenager should be expected to have the self-control to say no. Earlier in this book, we discussed the catastrophic impacts pornography can have on the brains of addicts. According to the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have seen online pornography in adolescence.12 It may be impossible to guard their eyes constantly, but it is irresponsible of parents not to try. Plus, parents in peer groups should work together to enforce a smartphone ban among their kids.
Moreover, teenagers are far too immature to understand the serious legal trouble they can get into with sexting. In many jurisdictions, sending sexually explicit images of minors counts as transmitting child pornography. Is it fair to put an impulsive tenth grader in the same category as a pervert? No, but that’s a call for the district attorney and the judge. Even if your child avoids conviction, to be dragged through the legal process with the prospect of sex offender status hanging over his head, potentially for the rest of his life, can be financially and emotionally devastating to a family.
Finally, though most teens who sext will never find themselves in legal jeopardy, the moral dimension can be ruinous. A single illicit image that hits social media can destroy a teen’s reputation and set them up for bullying and abuse.
Aside from the risk of pornographic content, there is the critical problem of what too much online exposure does to a young person’s brain. If we don’t treat our homes and schools as monasteries, strictly limiting both the information that comes to our kids (for the sake of their own inner formation), as well as their access to brain- altering technologies, we are forfeiting our responsibilities as stewards of their souls—and our own.
Did you know that Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs did not let his children use iPads and strictly limited their access to technology? Jobs was not the only one.
Chris Anderson, a former top tech journalist and now a Silicon Valley CEO, told the New York Times in 2014 that his home is like a tech monastery for his five children. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” Anderson said. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
If that’s how Silicon Valley tech geniuses parent, how do we justify being more liberal? Yes, you will be thought of as a weirdo and a control freak. So what? These are your children.
“The fact that we put these devices in our children’s hands at a very young age with little guidance, and they experience life in terms of likes and dislikes, the fact that they basically have technology now as a prosthetic attachment—all of that seems to me to be incredibly short-sighted and dangerous,” says philosopher Michael Hanby.
“It’s affecting their ability to think and to have basic human relationships,” he said. “This is a vast social experiment without precedent. We have handed our kids over to this without knowing what we are doing.”