Amid growing concern over the harms of online culture, we can forget there are lifegiving aspects too      

Written by Abby Ciona

I had probably walked this path a hundred times to and from university classes, rain and shine, snow and ice, but this was the first time I stopped at the rock-covered in lichen. I knelt for a closer look.

The longer I inspected the rock, the more colours and shapes of lichen I found: some like marigold blossoms or a slate cross-section of a brain, others like tiny blue barnacles or misty coral. Fascinated, I snapped pictures with my phone and researched online that afternoon, trying to identify my sightings.

I quickly realized identifying lichen wouldn’t be as straightforward as I thought—there are more than two thousand species of lichen found in Canada alone! I also discovered lichen is not a plant but a dual organism. It is a symbiotic relationship of fungi and bacteria or algae. I was flooded with unexpected ecstasy. It was like uncovering a new world, all thanks to the power of modern technology.

I had a similar experience a few weeks prior when a friend introduced me to the app iNaturalist, a worldwide biodiversity program for documenting living things. I was amazed by all the new wildlife I began to discover in my neighbourhood, like pseudoscorpions and salamanders. It reminded me of when I first got into serious birdwatching years ago and used apps like eBird and Merlin Bird ID to teach myself how to identify birds.

Often, people worry and complain about the dangers of technology: misinformation on the internet, addiction and depression linked to social media usage, distraction and low attention spans from cell phone reliance. And with the popular rise of ChatGPT—there are lots of conversations about copyright infringement in artificial-intelligence-generated work.

The list of technology ills goes on and on. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth that can make you want to give up on technology altogether and go live off the grid in the woods.

But when I think about all the discouragement and the negative impacts of technology, I can’t help but also remembering all I have learned thanks to the internet.

I think of how video chatting has connected me with family worldwide and how AI helps me improve my grammar. I think of how much easier it is to edit videos on a computer rather than cutting and taping film, and how social media has given me a creative outlet and helped me find new writing opportunities. I think of how the printing press put the Bible in more people’s hands and how Bible apps bring the Scripture into people’s pockets.

Yes, it is unwise to go all-in embracing new technology and buying the latest gadget or downloading the newest app without considering risks and impacts. We should follow the wisdom of Romans 12:2 and discern carefully, not conforming to every new development in the world but testing the intended purpose of the product and how we plan on using it. Just because we can take part in something, it doesn’t mean it will be beneficial for us or for our community (1 Corinthians 10:23). However, if we cancel all technology and act as if it doesn’t exist, we could miss out on a lot of good things.

Media and technology are powerful tools, and most tools are neither good nor bad. That depends on the purpose given by the user. That is why it’s so important for Christians to approach technology through a redemptive lens: one that acknowledges the harm it can cause in a world broken by sin but also a lens that looks for ways to use technology to better steward the gifts entrusted to us.

God has gifted us with creativity we can harness as hopeful potential—reimagining how we interact with technology. The tools we develop can open exciting opportunities to help us explore, learn, connect, and create in new ways. Yes, our world is full of darkness, but Jesus is the light of the world “making all things new,” and He invites us on that exciting journey of re-creation and bringing light to the darkness.