Resisting Techphobia: Unhelpful Hyperbole

Every few weeks a video about the evils of social networking goes viral on social networks. Nobody seems to see the irony in this. We could not spread anti-social-media messages very effectively without social media. This video was hosted on YouTube, which you may not call social media but it largely is, then went viral only through people sharing it with a simple push of a button.

What if we didn’t have the Internet and somebody wanted to distribute a video, about something other than the perils of the Internet obviously? You’d produce a bunch of physical copies (discs or otherwise), each one costing time and money to make. Then you’d try to sell them to stores and hope that somebody would take it, or maybe sell them yourself through a mail-order catalogue and ship them all out. Odds are you aren’t going to make a profit without a big corporate backing.

That to say, it annoys me that somebody can get famous by taking advantage of the wonders of the Internet through a message of how bad the Internet is.

The newest viral anti-social-media video is done in spoken word and is admittedly well done from a technical perspective. The message is essentially that by always staring at our phones we miss the real world around us, using a love story where a couple met when he asked directions to say that this wouldn’t happen if he just stared at his phone. It also makes it pretty clear that you will have no friends as they disappear from your couch when you pick up your phone.

So prompted by that video and others I’ve seen before it, I’ll do a little mini-series on the ethics of technology that it brings up.

My first point about techphobia is really evident in the case of this particular video: it is just too ridiculous of a premise. I’m not saying that relationships aren’t harmed when technology is used irresponsibly (any technology, from a wheel to a smartphone). But the extremes this video runs to are way too far, a common trend for these videos.

Do we really think that people will never seek (romantic) love again? That’s hardwired in us. Technology used poorly could make it harder, but used well could make it easier – isn’t the whole booming industry of dating sites proof of this? Technology does not replace romantic connection and to suggest that people think it does is absurd.

I’d also be curious to see if there is any drop in how often people hang out with their friends in person. From all of my anecdotal experience, people use their phones for two main things: being in touch when they can’t be together (not instead of being together), and coordinating times to get together.

My Meeting House Home Church in Toronto used emails, the one in Hamilton used Facebook and occasionally a BBM Group for quicker news or more private things like prayer requests, and the one in Kitchener now uses Facebook. Not once has it every crossed my mind that I could just post some things there and wouldn’t need to see them in person. Occasionally you may see a case where somebody can’t come for other reasons so they post a prayer request there instead. We’re not talking about prayer online instead of prayer in person. We’re talking about prayer online instead of not praying together at all, to be resumed in person as soon as possible. Same goes for planning other ways of getting together above and beyond the usual weekly gathering and providing last-minute information about that weekly gathering if something changes. Technology makes that and so much more happen, the exact opposite of what is shown in the video.

Maybe the video was meant to be hyperbolic simply to be dramatic, but at least for me, it miserably failed if so. All it got across to me by its hyperbole was that they are out of touch with reality.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.