Seven Steps to Wisdom in the Digital Age

From their new book, "The Hyperlinked Life," authors Jun Young and David Kinnaman address how Christians can maintain healthy balance in this age of smartphones, tablets, social media and information overload.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do in response to the knowledge revolution is to learn and practice the timeless art of wisdom—wise living for the digital age.

Ironically, we live in the most information rich period in history, yet how many of us feel we are living with more wisdom? With more discernment? With deeper friendships or ample time?

Let’s look at ways to add more wisdom to our digital diet—seven practices that will help us live more meaningfully and more humbly.

1. Get the big picture of the digital knowledge revolution.

Some critics are quite dismissive of the effects of the digital world. They reason there is nothing new and that humans are still basically the same creatures with or without iPhones. Others realize large social changes are afoot but claim the digital revolution is akin to massive addiction of the populace.

We have to become more aware of our calling as a hyperlinked people: what we are called to do and who we are called to be when we are plugged-in. Some of us need to be reminded that technology is not something to fear, hate or reject. Others have to be reminded that technology should not define our lives nor be the center of them. We must put technology in its rightful position—not as an idol, but as one of the tools we use to get things done.

2. Find your own unique relationship to technology.

You can also become more aware of your relationship with technology by keeping a technology-use journal for a week. Basically, pay attention to your technology use and jot down when, how, and how long you’re using your gadgets throughout the day. At the end of the week, you’ll have a much better understanding of how you spend your time online.

Then the hard work begins, because knowing the reality of your relationship with technology, you’ll be faced with some important questions: Is this how I should be spending my days? How hooked am I on gadgets and information? Is my relationship with my favorite devices more of a help or hindrance to my purpose in life? How are my habits shaping who I am, and is that who I want to be?

3. Practice digital Sabbath.

Perhaps the most important way to put your dependence on technology in balance is to go on a weekly digital Sabbath. In our research, we have learned that fewer than 1 in 10 Christian families take anything like a digital Sabbath.

Shoot for a full day a week when you turn off all your digital devices (or at least reserve them for true communication like phone calls and Skype chats with distant family and friends). We can also apply the Sabbath concept to everyday life, generally trying to spend less time online each day.

4. Develop hyperlinked habits that define the real you.

We need to be sure we don’t cultivate two different versions of ourselves: our online self versus our off-line self. Are we Instagramming a perfect life? Are we presenting a fair picture of ourselves online? Are we “posing” for the digital camera more than we should?

Of course, we have to be careful not to expose too much of ourselves online. But there are also dangers inherent in cultivating two different lives. A carefully composed digital persona often leaves little room for true vulnerability, real-life struggles, or even the mundane (but often spiritually rich) tasks and habits of daily life.

5. Mentor (and be mentored by) the next generation.

The youngest generations have the most to gain and the most to lose as the hyperlinked era comes of age. They also have more to give because they are true digital natives—they haven’t witnessed the evolution of the Information Age; they were simply born into it.

So what does this mean for us? As Christian communities, we need to work hard to mentor and develop the next generation of Christ-followers. While it’s here to stay, this hyperlinked world is still news, so there’s still a chance for us to make course corrections.

The best course correction we can make is to raise our children and grandchildren to be true biblical stewards of this new knowledge revolution. We can help them step back and realize the implications of a hyperlinked life. But we also need to be humble enough to listen to the next generation and realize staying up to date with new technology does have real advantages.

6. Redefine stewardship to include technology.

One of the most important aspects of hyperlinked living is to enlarge our definition of stewardship—from time, treasure and talent to also include technology.

Speaking to pastors: The idea of stewarding the hyperlinked world means providing God’s people with a broader set of ideas about stewardship. How can you help people make sense of the information barrage? What does a theology of information look like for the people in your church? How can you articulate the needed shift from using people and loving our devices to loving people and using our devices?

7. Be more discerning about whom and what to trust.

Finally, if we are living in an era of information overload, we need better filters for deciding what sources we can trust and “facts” we can believe. One of the challenges Christians face is finding credible information about our world that comes from a rich theological point of view. Naturally, this is where the role of the Bible comes in; hyperlinked Christians need to be people of the Book.

How can we discern between good and bad information? Some questions to ask about any information include: Who or what organization is producing this information? What might be their reason for doing so? Do I believe or distrust this information simply because it confirms my preexisting viewpoint on the subject? Or am I willing to be open-minded and even swayed, within the boundaries of biblical truth?

Adapted from The Hyperlinked Life by Jun Young and David Kinnaman. Copyright 2013 by Barna Group. Used by permission of Zondervan, www.zondervan.com. For more information and to purchase The Hyperlinked Life, go here.

is the president of Barna Group, a research company located in Ventura, Calif., that focuses on faith and culture. He also is the author of three books: Good Faith, You Lost Me and unChristian.
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