As we advance in technology, we are always creating new “needs” for ourselves. 60 years ago, televisions were a luxury; today they are found in 99% of American households. 35 years ago, personal computers were a luxury that only the wealthiest and most progressive people owned. Today they are in 87% of American single-family homes. 30 years ago most people didn’t even know what a cell phone was, but today 96% of Americans own a one.
There is no doubt that these inventions have made our lives easier and more efficient. But, as thankful as I am to live in the age where we have e-mail, cell phones, texting, and social media, I have the uneasy feeling that all of this extra communication is having a negative effect on our lives and culture. Although it is true that communication is essential to healthy relationships, not all communication is good communication. The book of Proverbs repeatedly distinguishes between the two. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 15:2,4 say, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly…The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” Our words can bring the precious gifts of truth, wisdom, and healing; but they are also capable of doing incredible damage.
Jesus taught us that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Just as opening a spigot allows the water under pressure to flow freely, so does opening our mouth to speak allow the content of our hearts to spew into the world around us. And the more we know the Lord, the more we realize how much ugliness and filth still resides in our hearts. That is why the book of Proverbs encourages us to carefully parcel out our words. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
The new forms of technology encourage a kind of “stream-of-consciousness” communication that allows thoughts and emotions to be expressed with very little filtering or restraint, and what overflows from our mouths and keyboards is often foolish or corrupt or hurtful. A hundred years ago, the only way to communicate with someone at a distance was by writing a letter and sending it by mail. If you go back and read the correspondence between people during those times you are immediately struck by how thoughtful and eloquent their letters were. Compare those letters to the typical texting and social media dialogue that people carry on with their friends and you can’t help but feel that we’ve lost something very important. Watch a movie based upon a Jane Austen novel, such as “Sense and Sensibility” or “Pride and Prejudice”, and you can’t help but long for conversations that are filled with carefully chosen words and respect for others.
E-mail, social media, and cell phones have certainly made our lives easier, and they are valuable tools that I can no longer imagine living without. But with the increased communication has also come increased temptation and sin. The Apostle Paul set the standard for our communications with others pretty high: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). I’m not arguing against the use of modern methods of conversing; I’m arguing for a godly caution in how we use them. Well-thought-out, carefully chosen, prayer-saturated words can be a powerful force for truth and goodness. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). How valuable is your correspondence?