Peggy Kendall is the author of several books related to technology, faith, and parenting. Her latest book is Reboot: Refreshing Your Faith in a High-Tech World which does a good job of surfacing questions about the trade-offs that technology brings to our families, jobs, and personal lives. It’s a nice, short book that doesn’t unfairly demonize technology, but just attempts to help us see both its pros and cons and suggest some ways to “unplug” and “refresh” every now and again. Although it’s not a parenting book like her previous works, it is more geared toward married adults with children although it might still be fun to read with a group that included younger folks.
1. First off, give us a brief introduction of yourself and what you do for a living.
I am an Associate Professor in the department of Communication Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN. I have been there for over 12 years and LOVE it.
2. Reboot is your third book on technology and faith. Tell us about those books and what pushed you to write in this area.
When I finished my PhD a few years ago, I was looking around for a new topic to dive into. It didn’t take me long to find the field of media ecology and computer mediated communication. Night after night, I sat sat across my kitchen table watching my kids IM, Facebook, and connect with their friends in ways that really didn’t make sense to me. As a mom, I didn’t know if it was good or bad or what it was I should be doing. That’s where my first 2 books came from-really a personal desire to figure out how to be a better parent. Then, as I was speaking to parents and kids about things in the books, it became painfully obvious that it wasn’t just my kids who were being impacted by technology. Many of the frustrations and challenges I was experiencing in my own life could be traced to the way technology had sucked some of the energy and sanctity out of my Christian life.
3. As a communications professor, have the types of classes you teach changed over the last decade as Internet usage become more common and social media came on the scene?
When I first started teaching, I only mentioned things like television and media on occasion. I then found that students began to perk up whenever I would mention things like MySpace or Facebook-they thought I was quite the cool professor when I told them I actually had Facebook friends. Now, I find that issues of technology are part of every class-whether it is Public Speaking, Organizational Communication, or Interpersonal Communication. Not only does technology impact the field and the way we interact with each other, I have found that when I use examples that include texting or Facebooking, students find it much more relevant and thought-provoking. This is their world. When we talk about communication, they automatically think in terms of social media. If I am not integrating those topics into my teaching, I won’t be challenging them in ways that are relevant and significant to them.
4. What has been your favorite new technology over the past few years, and what has been the one that you wish you’d never come across?
It’s funny, that’s kind of an embarrassing question. I love my DVR/TiVO technology. I love watching TV and old movies. With my little TV recording system, I no longer have to be enslaved by the schedule of TV executives. I like to think that I am free to use TV in a way that is a little healthier. I end up watching my old movies late at night when no one else is awake and I find I watch less television because I can be more selective.
I hate my cell phone. I am not good at it. I forget it, lose it, forget to charge it, can’t read it without my glasses, and have the hardest time driving and talking at the same time. The thing is, everyone else around me expects me to be available and they get a little sore when they can “never reach me”.
5. Those of us born before the Internet are sometimes called “digital nomads,” while younger people who have always had the Internet are called “digital natives.” What challenges do you see for these groups to communicate and relate to one another?
No matter how good we get at this technology, it will never feel completely comfortable. We know another way of doing things and that other way has wired us with certain defaults. The problem is, our kids have a different wiring system. Their default is that technology is good and helpful. They clearly see and deeply understand the positive things technology gives them. The problem comes when we get too stuck in the good old days-back when things were done the “right” way. When we automatically see the problems with the way our kids use their technology, it is hard to have an open discussion about how we can all use technology more wisely.
6. Since you successfully raise three children including one disabled child, what advice do you have for parents of young children like me?
I believe the wise strategy is not to remove the threat to protect our children, it is to come alongside our children to help train them about the threat. In other words, by simply removing the influence of technology we aren’t, necessarily, teaching them how to be wise consumers of something that will inevitably become a significant part of their lives. What that requires is greater involvement than most of us feel comfortable with. For instance, it may mean sitting with younger children who have opened up a Club Penguin account, playing with them and talking to them about the difference between a real friend and a Club Penguin stranger-friend. It may mean being a Facebook friend with teenage children, regularly checking their pages and openly discussing the good and frustrating things with Facebook. I think it also means building into our children a sense of discipline. When they get older, they will need the discipline to know when too much technology is too much. What that means is that when they are young, they will need us to help them have the strength to say “no”, “I’m done”, “it’s time to put this away”.
7. You occasionally quote thinkers like Ellul, Postman, and McLuhan in your book. What writers have had the greatest influence in the way you approach technology and your Christian life?
I really enjoy reading Ellul. He has such a profound understanding of how technology shapes our view of our creator. That, in turn, has an impact on how we trust God, how we fear him, and how we make decisions about what is important in our lives.
8. If there is one thing you want to share with reader of this blog about technology and faith, what would it be?
We make choices every day: choices about how to spend our time, what we pay attention to, and how we interact with others. Every time we pick up a cell phone or log onto our computer, I believe it is important to think about what we are gaining and what we are giving up. Technology gives us a lot. It also speeds up our lives in ways that reshuffle our stated priorities. It can take away the richness of life in a way that sucks the joy and passion out of our Christian experience. It can move us to settle for a mediated, superficial reality. God created us for so much more. We need to make a choice to make a choice.