Earlier this month I was invited to speak at two different Rotary Clubs here in SCV. I greatly admire the foundational aspect of service to our community upon which these clubs are built. It was also an honor to interact with these men and women who epitomize personal accountability, initiative and excellence.
Since then I have wondered why the ethic of service to others seems to be on the decline. Why do so many live in a world that revolves completely around themselves? Why are we becoming a society without patience for one another, without the ability to forgive, and without the ability to understand that sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to, and we need to step in with sweat and heart to help?
I think I’ve hit on at least part of the answer, and it may at first seem silly. Think about it. With the emergence of personal technology, almost everything we do now is mostly done for us. You know the saying … “there’s an app for that!” Even as I write, I am no longer putting pen to paper, but rather relying on an application that not only translates my keystrokes into letters but also automatically corrects my spelling, suggests grammatical improvements, counts my words, and changes formats and fonts on command. What used to be tedious has become mundane, but is there a cost we don’t recognize?
The advent of personal technology such as phones, laptops, tablets, and all the apps they allow us to access, has changed the way we do life. Now, many daily activities are done at an arm’s length. We don’t do them, we activate an app to do them. Consequently, we have become extremely dependent on something other than our own efforts, and we become instantly upset if the technology doesn’t work perfectly.
Now take it a step further. What if our habitual dependence on apps bleeds over into our treatment of people as “human” apps who we think exist to serve us? Have we become so used to opening apps and getting results that we’ve developed a deep-seated sense of entitlement in most other areas of life, including those that still run on human interaction?
The negatives associated with technology have been studied and written about for decades, but now we’re seeing them first-hand. When everything from communication and productivity to information, health aids and funny videos can literally be at our fingertips, it is easy to see why we believe we should get what we want, when we want it, without any inconvenience.
We get things done despite the fact we are increasingly isolated and insulated from the real human interaction that fosters patience, compassion, forgiveness, and most of all, the desire to serve others sacrificially for their good. And that’s bad for us.
No, I am not for throwing out technology. It is useful in myriad ways. Yet, we must hold on to the ethics of human interaction, including a recognition that people, unlike our apps, are alive with love and strength and surprise.
Yes, we disappoint. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, there are times when we all need others to show compassion, patience and forgiveness. And yes, there are times – lots of them! – when we as individuals have to do the job ourselves, get ourselves motivated, push ourselves through challenges and even take responsibility when we fail. Simply stated, you can’t reduce all of life to an app. You’re not an app, and neither am I.
No, we’re something much better, and we dare not allow technology to erode our unique posture as interdependent agents with the power to love, help, grow and serve one another. We simply can’t treat each other as though we were apps, as though fellow humans are responsible to do our bidding, respond to our needs perfectly, and relieve us from all inconvenience and sweat.
As I left the Rotary Club, it dawned on me that what those men and women experience in their meetings and service projects could never be accomplished through technology alone. What they have, and deeply appreciate, is a true soul nourishing relationship that produces the fruit of care and concern for others. It is the adventure of life-on-life interaction that makes a society great. And there will never be an app for that!
David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” appears Fridays in The Signal until July 22, when it is scheduled to move to Sundays as part of The Signal’s new weekly news magazine.