A Storytelling Serial
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Are you a digital native, born using a cell phone and the internet? Or are you—like me—a dinosaur who crawled from the primordial swamp of dial phone, snail mail, and daily newspaper?
If you’re in the first group, you know how to fully use constant connectedness and instant knowledge. If you fit in the second category, you remember—even if reluctantly—how easy it is to live a normal life without constant or instant anything. When necessary, you can wait in silence and can even find information without Google.
But in either position, you might wonder whether the ubiquitous, always-advancing technology we take for granted and anchor our existence on makes us better, happier human beings.
No matter how fleetingly or secretly the question crosses your mind, you’re right to ask.
In the sixth century, the Catholic Church (back then the only Christian game in town) produced a list of seven major sins. In the twenty-first century, technology users (these days the only practical game in developed countries) face their own litany of seven soul-sucking foibles.
You may have heard an old fable about boiling frogs alive, which tells the story of turning up the heat so gradually that the unfortunate amphibians acclimate and don’t leap from the pot. Although science proves otherwise, the tale persists to emphasize an underlying truth. And unlike those doomed mythical frogs, you have the power to listen to an inner voice that can warn the temperature is rising to a dangerous level.
On the technology thermometer, these seven sins may indicate deadly degrees.
1. Pride (Vanity)
Definition: Inordinate self-esteem and conceit
Parents of my generation have been blamed for focusing so much on our children’s self-esteem that we praised and rewarded them for everything, regardless of their effort or lack of it, and forgot to teach them the value of work for work’s sake or of learning from failure.
I’m not sure I agree with that specific criticism. I know plenty of young adults who are busy getting stuff done without recognition. Nevertheless, how often do we see social media posts that celebrate the posters’ accomplishments or wins? Likes, loves, thumbs up, clapping hands, and congratulatory comments seem addictive. Technology encourages a widespread need to be not just seen but admired.
2. Greed (Covetousness)
Definition: Selfish and excessive desire for more than needed
We don’t realize we require it until marketers, content writers, bloggers, and social media posters tell us how important it is. And technology itself is on a constant trajectory of continuous development that leaves us no choice but to get in line to buy the latest must-have product as soon as it’s released.
Today, thanks to algorithms and tracking, we can keep up with the Joneses without even knowing them.
And if we already have the coveted object, we must upgrade. No matter that the original works fine. New is always improved, right?
3. Lust (Inordinate Longing)
Definition: Intense or unbridled sexual desire—or any strong craving
As if technology didn’t already put us in the mood for wanting it all and demanding the best, it also surrounds us with inescapable, relentless messages that ramp up the emotion from mere desire to irrational obsession. We’re encouraged to view our wants as must-haves, to make our goals such strong priorities that all else pales against the objects of our intense longing.
Whether the craving is for sex, love, food, entertainment, or distraction, technology has seduced us into believing there is a ready fix that will shield us from discomfort. We sacrifice our time, our creativity, our critical thinking, and our uniqueness to pursue the thing that gives us temporary relief from the realities of our imperfect lives and hurting world.
Humans have always sought escape. But never before have we experienced so many irresistible forces providing social approval to seize the lust that pulls us far from our deepest selves.
4. Envy (Resentment)
Definition: Awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage
Ah, the many online platforms ripe for comparisonitis. Social networking. Microblogging. Photo and video sharing. They’re like a constant barrage of holiday letters.
Everyone else is making more money, finding more meaning and purpose, figuring it out, and having much more fun than we are. And they’re doing it with great relationships, excellent health, and frequent trips to exotic locales. Plus backyard swimming pools and photogenic pets.
The saddest part is that we fall for the gloss and never question what’s behind the shine.
5. Gluttony (Overconsumption)
Definition: Excessive indulgence
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Merriam-Webster noted the new terms doomsurfing and doomscrolling. Transfixed by the online deluge, many of us have been swept away in overconsumption of bad news.
But even when we’re looking for videos of photogenic pets or researching how to further racial equality, technology enables too much of a good thing. How often do we finally find the strength to break screen suction, emerge from the black hole, and wonder where our time went?
6. Wrath (Anger)
Definition: Strong vengeful indignation
Technology can inspire awe, bridge distance, educate willing learners, and save lives. It also fuels high blood pressure, relationship rifts, riots, and wars. The online world isn’t known for nuanced communication or broad perspective.
Sometimes we don’t even know how angry we are until a web presence tells us. The internet deserves its reputation as an echo chamber that hooks and intensifies emotions previously experienced at a lower, less stressful level.
Anger loves groupthink. So does technology.
7. Sloth (Laziness)
Definition: Indolence, apathy, and inactivity
During the past year, many have learned to embrace the health benefits and ease of working and living at a distance. No commutes. No time-suck shopping trips. No restaurant waits. The magic of streaming. Wants are satisfied with the click of a button.
Still, many businesses have disappeared and continue to do so at a dizzying rate. We’re now so accustomed to convenience that no one knows whether we’ll ever again bother with in-person patronage.
And with increased surface-level communication through Zoom and Slack and chat platforms, we’ve also seen a real decrease in deep and genuinely supportive office relationships.
We’re no longer willing to wait for anything. We settle for the fast-and-easy answers of the top five Google search returns rather than exploring the deep web—or, perish the thought, a brick-and-mortar library.
Life has become accessible to the point we’re forgetting how to work at it for longer than a minute and a half. Nothing is worth sustained effort.
Fighting Sin with Virtue
Catholic theology assures us these sins “can be overcome with the seven corresponding virtues of (1) humility, (2) charity, (3) chastity, (4) gratitude, (5) temperance, (6) patience, and (7) diligence.”
Regardless of our diverse belief systems, now seems a good time to connect these seven qualities to our relationships with technology. In an increasingly virtual world, how can we practice being humble, generous, decent, thankful, moderate, tolerant, and persistent in ways that might save our humanity?
I’m not sure I can slay all my technology demons at once, but I’m determined to start somewhere. This week I’ll avoid surfing, scrolling, or settling for fast answers and snap judgments. I invite you to pick your own virtue and join me on the way back to cooler, less troubled waters.
Which sin is your greatest technology weakness? Confession isn’t required, and I can’t provide absolution, but it would be lovely to read any virtuous thoughts you’re comfortable sharing below.