A shocking story appeared in the Times of India, about a teenager, thirteen years of age, who had taken to prostitution because of her obsessive craze for high-end gadgets and mobile phones. The mother, who runs a grocery shop, did not have any clue of her daughter’s act until the girl spilled the beans abruptly, fearful that she had become pregnant. The shocked mother tried to explain to the teenager that prostitution is illegal and immoral, but the girl refuses to stop or to see anything wrong in the act. She reveals that she had been working independently and booked her clients through a secret secondary phone. The counselor who attended to the teenager noted that she seemed unphased and took quite some time to respond to the counselling, simply repeating in a matter-of-fact tone that, she was strapped for money and unable to buy the latest gizmos and gadgets that her friends used.
This, perhaps, is not an isolated incident but a reflection of a trend among us these days. The young (or, most of us, for that matter), have become so gadget-crazy that they not only draw pleasure, but also their identity from the gadgets that they possess. In his book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, Jaron Lanier, one of the pioneers of virtual reality (in fact, the one who first coined the term “virtual reality”), talks about the reductionist tendencies prevalent in the field of Computer Science—for example, reducing thinking to mere “information processing” and prostrating oneself before machines. He points out further, that every software program embodies a personal philosophy: “[I]t is impossible to work with information technology without also engaging in social engineering….People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time.”
Therefore, the question that we need to engage with is, not only ‘what we do with our technologies,’ but ‘what we are becoming through our technologies.’ Technology and gadgets alter our perception of ourselves, of others, and of the world in more ways than we can imagine. A familiar script can be seen in the common commercials constantly flashing on our television screens: The average, ordinary man or woman instantly transformed into the most desirable, the most sought-after, airbrushed by the high-end car that they drive, or the Rado watch that they sport, fooled into thinking that they have become more than what they are, simply because of the things they owned, or more ironically, that owned them (and us!). There is, thus, a dialectical relationship between the tools we use, our conception of the world and our self-consciousness. As Neil Postman puts it aptly, “To the man with a hammer, everything is a nail.” In this gadget-crazy generation, we need to pause awhile and reflect on whether the gadgets that we use are just tools to serve our needs? Or have they completely taken over, making us believe that unless we have these gadgets we don’t fit in or are not worth anything?
In such a culture, the biblical worldview increasingly stands out, declaring that human beings have an intrinsic worth apart from anything external, because we are specially created in the image of the living God. Our value does not come from what we possess or what we do not possess, but from what we are—our humanness. Worldviews that tell us otherwise, that equate humans with automatons, or that dismiss man as a mere illusion, will simply not help in addressing the issues that this generation faces, a generation bombarded every moment with the message: “You are what you possess!
Tejdor Tiewsoh is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Shillong, India.