Saturday, June 9, 2012

Technology & Materialism

As I have stated before technology is simply the ability to do or make things. What things we choose to do or make with this ability is where the problem occurs. Materialism, that is the preoccupation and over emphasis on material objects and the comforts they provide, is more to blame for the current sick condition of both our planet and our society.

Shopping has become the national pastime and for some an addiction. Its reported that nearly 70% of the U.S. economy is consumption of consumer goods and services and it seems that the rest of the world is desperately struggling to attain that for them selves. A life focused on consumption is a vain, unhappy life indeed. Technology could have given us more time to do meaningful things that would have truly enhanced our life, however as a society we have chosen instead to have more stuff. In fact many have chosen to become slaves to this stuff by buying on credit.

The current rate of consumption in developed countries is both harmful to the environment and the soul. To the environment it is destructive primarily because it is wasteful and/or toxic. Most of the stuff that's purchased was made in a way that was economically not environmentally efficient, was purchased unnecessarily and will get thrown into a landfill or incinerator within a few months. It is damaging to the soul because it wastes our time and never truly satisfies us.

Time Saver or Time Waster
Time savings could have been the biggest benefit of technology. The ability to automate laborious and/or boring tasks so we can be free to do other more fulfilling things is a great idea. Unfortunately we have filled those free hours with more, just as laborious and/or boring, work and meaningless recreation such as excessive TV watching. 

One example of an invention that could have saved us time but doesn't is the automobile. Being able to drive anywhere you want in a climate controlled vehicle at high speed is a good thing. It should have saved us lots of time, yet how many of us spend hour after wretched hour stuck in traffic commuting to work five days a week? Ironically the recent downturn in the economy has lessened the traffic congestion due to less people commuting to work and then driving to the mall to spend their earnings. Some might conclude that we have a choice between prosperity and time. I would say that depends on how you define prosperity.

What Is True Prosperity
Most sources today would say prosperity is physical wealth, money and the stuff it can buy. The material abundance produced by technology has aided this notion's acceptance. In contrast before the industrial revolution most people knew that prosperity is more than having stuff. In fact beyond life's basic necessities it has nothing to do with how much stuff you own. True prosperity and happiness means being at peace with yourself, others and especially your creator. Having the time to think deep thoughts, bond with others and serve your creator is much more valuable than a big screen TV or an extra 1000 square feet in your house. Sadly few seem to realize this and so at an early age they step onto the treadmill and begin running until for one reason or another they are unable to keep up.

The recent downturn in the economy has caused thousands to fall off that treadmill. By force they have been made to live a simplier life, one less focused on consuming. As a result some go through what might be considered withdrawal symptoms as they are unable to treat the emptiness they feel with shopping, vacations or eating out. Others just learn to cope, hoping for a return to the days of plenty. A few though have realized the benefits of consuming less, being debt free and spending time doing things that are more healthy and fulfilling.

Time Spent Wisely
He is born. He plays and learns. He builds a home and works hard to stock it with good things. He finds a mate and produces offspring. He grows old and dies. I've just described the life of a squirrel and unfortunately many millions of human beings. How we choose to spend our time can make the difference between a vain animal like existence and a purposeful life.

Time is one thing we all have an equal amount of. Yes, some may live longer than others, but on a day to day basis we each have 24 hours, no more, no less. How should you spend it? The best way to consider the answer to that question is to think about when your time may be up. At the end of your life what will matter most to you? Will you be thinking I wish I had bought that new pair of shoes? Or possibly I wish I had spent more time at work and maybe I would have gotten that promotion? For most people at the end of their life what the wish they had most is more time. Isn't that why we go to doctors and hospitals, to buy more time?

Since a relationship with our creator and faith in his son will buy us an eternity (John 17:3) shouldn't that be our first priority? And since our happiest memories are those spent with loved ones, especially our spouse and children, shouldn't that be our second priority? Certainly its necessary to spend some time working to support ourselves and buying necessary things, but a life where working and consuming is the main focus bears a sobering resemblance to that of a squirrel.

Its Materialism Not Technology
I conclude once again its materialism and the imperfect human nature that causes us to gravitate to it that is the real problem. Technology used wisely and where it can really improve our lives is a good thing. Unfortunately technology has been misused to clutter our lives with time wasting gadgets, frustrating commutes, polluted air & water, and unnatural lifestyles that wreak havoc on everything from our nervous systems to our posture.

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