Praying for perspective: The shape of things to come

It’s up to us to harness all the technological advances and use them for good—and for God.

By George Valadie

It’s probably trite to even offer this thought, but do you ever notice anymore how dramatically and rapidly our lives are changing?

The whole idea jumped out at me the other day when Nancy mentioned there’s a Roomba-type lawnmower for your yard. No pushing, no pulling, no paying somebody else. Now you can enjoy your cool drink while you’re cutting the grass — not after.

If there’s one constant in our lives, it’s got to be change, invading our lives so frequently and thoroughly we’ve just come to expect it rather than be awed by it.

I’m old enough to recall our first color television, a modern marvel that astonished our family for years, and replaced in magnificence only by the remote that came along later.

Now, seldom does a day pass when you don’t hear about or experience some unbelievable innovation that’s no longer unbelievable and barely feels innovative. And if it hasn’t happened yet, they tell you it will be here soon.

Nancy makes fun of me when I return from the grocery store astonished by some new product I didn’t know you could buy. “Seriously, George, they’ve been selling that for years. If you went every so often …” Oops!

If we pause to really take it all in, the sheer amazement of it all can take your breath away.

After all, you can get a college degree and never set foot on a campus. You can get a college degree from a school that doesn’t even have a campus.

I’ve written a column like this for 20-plus years and have yet to pick up pen, pencil, or paper to write a single word of it. You forget things like that.

I can’t recall the last time I saw an actual paycheck. There were the years when Nancy took it, and then they just stopped issuing them.

I never carry cash anymore. I used to blame that on Nancy, too, but who needs it? Our church is even encouraging the automatic deposit plan.

Experts say it won’t be long before all our credit and debit cards will be meshed into one. When that happens, will embedding the chip in our skin be all that far behind?

My entire health history can be on a disk in my wallet in case … well, just in case.

We don’t have one yet, but toilets already exist that not only dispose of your waste but analyze it first and transmit the results to your doctor, which I suppose will be transmitted via Bluetooth back to the disk in my wallet.

Is there anything your phone cannot do? There’s a college band somewhere in which all the members play nothing but their phones.

How did it get to be that we can gain and lose friends without ever meeting them? And when did that begin to happen with such frequency we no longer acknowledge how strange that even sounds?

There was a day when satellites used to talk only to NASA — now they talk to my car radio and the watch on my wrist.

Doesn’t it seem as if something equally complex should control my home’s heat and air, its lights, its television — at least something more advanced than the clap of my hands?

My cable, DVR, pause-live-action, two-pictures- in-one, high-definition, unnecessarily large TV has 1,000-plus slots for channels, most of which are already filled. I recall when there were but three.

Homes everywhere have key-punch front door locks that once opened send a simultaneous text to a parent to let them know Joey is home.

Crock-Pots, dishwashers, ovens, and vacuums have long done their thing without your help. Now it’s cars that can get you where you’re going, park you, stop you — and see behind, beside, and in front of you.

Turns out your life doesn’t really need you anymore.

They said there’s more to come: infrared scanners at the entrances to businesses or schools that can identify an individual with a higher-than-normal temperature; shoes that think and are able to adjust where to provide and reduce the support you need; wall paint that can change colors depending on your mood; plants that play music if placed in the right sort of vase; and medication that can be delivered to the patient by sound waves that part the cells of your skin.

Those last few would sound a bit futuristic if each hadn’t been invented years ago.

In fact, every single thing I’ve mentioned has been invented in the span of my lifetime. Imagine 20 years from now. No, imagine just five.

Life is no doubt different. But is it better?

We still have wars. We still have hunger and homelessness. Hasn’t it always come down to how we choose to use the technologies we invent? Drones can deliver bombs from the Pentagon or books from Amazon.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it, all provide us the chance to reach out. Or are we using these more to bring people to us so they might observe what’s happening in our lives?

I love that my TV will record. We get to watch our favorite hour-long shows in 42 minutes, zooming past every commercial. But have we used all this extra time to do anything worthwhile or just watch more shows? I’d be embarrassed to tell you.

We couldn’t, but our daughters could know the gender of their babies in advance. A friend said, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it! There are so few surprises left in the world. I’ll come paint the baby’s room myself the day it’s born. Just let this happen.”

Our girls? Not a chance. Were they wrong to find out? Or just wrong to overly obsess about the rooms and the paint and the endless decorations their babies could never appreciate?

Think back to the technologies we possess. Think ahead to the good we can do with it.

Life is better; life can be better! All it needs is us.

Dear God — Technology is neither good nor bad. We humans give it shape. Please bless the shapers. Amen.


George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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