While technology can bless lives, there is a looming danger. Like the tephra-plumes billowing over Pompeii, we live directly in the path of an erupting Vesuvius: the dark side of the Information Age. This dark side is not limited to pornography and titillating chat rooms.
From texting our fingers raw, to an endless stream of video games and Twitter-mania, trivial pursuits are like lava entombing our potential for greatness. To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, "... it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness" ("A Tale of Two Cities").
A life enthralled with trivial pursuits is a monument to diversion — an epitaph of things that matter least. It is "living below our privileges" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Your Potential, Your Privilege," priesthood session, general conference, April 2011).
Medium over message
Many are addicted to gadgets, trading interaction with present company for the seance of communicating with dead games and ghosts in the machine.
Even a casual observer will admit that our fascination with gadgets sometimes kills the message for the thrill of the medium. In this way, valueless information is elevated to the sublime simply because it is dressed in colorful icons, flying thumbs and light-speed keypads.
Today’s cellphones are mobile offices, entertainment centers and audio/video recording studios. Observe any cellphone user with a group of friends; the tendency is to ignore present company for the long-distance demands of absentees. (See my previous Mormon Times article, "Be Where You Are.")
Technology as blessing and curse
Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled, "We rightfully worry about taming our technology so that it serves us, rather than dominates us. But we cannot tame our technology without taming ourselves" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Eternalism vs. Secularism," Ensign, October, 1974, 69).
While technology can help us be more efficient and productive, we must never trade our potential for greatness in exchange for the bright packaging of a wasted life.
President Uchtdorf reminds us that gadgets and technology can also serve us, especially in spreading the gospel. He said, "With so many social media resources and a multitude of more or less useful gadgets at our disposal, sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before. ... My dear young friends, perhaps the Lord's encouragement 'to open (your) mouths' might today include 'using your hands' to blog and text message the gospel to all the world!" (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Waiting on the Road to Damascus," general conference, April 2011)
Children and gadgets
If electronic gadgets, the Internet and video games are addicting to adults, imagine what an opiate they can be for our children. How did my generation grow up without cellphones, the Internet and video games rated "M" for mature (code for blood, guts and sex)?
Successful parents are involved. A click of the mouse or sweep of an icon can penetrate impressionable minds with destructive images or time-wasting trivia.
There is no such thing as electronic privacy for our children. We would not sit idle for a home invasion. Why would we do so for Internet intruders or electronic soul robbers? Know what your children are viewing; know what their friends are suggesting.
The blessing of pondering
The problem isn’t gadgetry or the trivia within technology. As we know, gadgets and technology can be powerful tools for learning, for sharing and for spreading the gospel. Gadgets can bless or curse. The problem is us.
Addiction to trivial pursuits is an ancient affliction. The apostle Paul observed this affliction among the Epicureans and Stoics of his day, who "spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21).
Thrilled with self-pleasing, there is little room for reflection leading to the thrill of improved character.
Consider the miracle of pondering: To the Saints in the new world, the resurrected Jesus commanded his followers to "go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said ... that ye might understand" (3 Nephi 17:3, emphasis added).
Pondering leads to understanding. By pondering the scriptures, Joseph Smith was led to the Sacred Grove. Revelation often comes by pondering (see Doctrine and Covenants 138).
Pondering is one of the greatest gifts of God. It requires a spiritual retreat from distraction. It enlightens our mind and cuts through the noise of our own voice. To ponder is to seek, and in seeking we find.
In another era, families worked together, ate together, and talked and prayed together. The modern trend is to retreat to the bedroom, compartmentalizing the family and fracturing the bonds of loving interaction, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As we focus on things that matter most, the curse of retreating behind technology as a substitute for companionship yields to love and service. As we tame ourselves, we tame selfishness. Technology then becomes a tool, not a taskmaster.
There is no "app" for self-control. For those who love Jesus, self-discipline stems from the discipline of loving God. When that happens, the tools of technology bow to the will of the disciple, rather than enslaving the will of the undisciplined. And that is no trivial pursuit.
William Monahan is a 1980 graduate of BYU Law School. He practices law and teaches law and ethics. A former Phoenix stake president and current high councilor for the Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake, he is active in Interfaith and a U.S. Air Force veteran.