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Technology & the Culture of Immediacy

  • Introduction:
    Technology is advancing at phenomenal rates. We have gone from the first computer which consumed an entire room to one able to be carried in our palms. Fast computers have become faster, phones have become fax machines, and automatic teller machines now sprawl the landscape. And all of these changes have occurred in only a few short decades.

    Since most feel that such devices are intended to make our lives easier, it is time to offer another perspective. In no way is this an argument against pursuing technological advancements. But rather to ask us all to take two or three steps back and take a look at the big picture, to examine what we are leaving behind in our movement "forward".

  • What Happened to that Virtue called "Patience"?:
    Some refer to our technology as "progress", and in a sense it is. But at what cost? Sure, now we can send a document to someone across the globe through the fax machine rather than the lengthy, laborious process of mail, but has this act made us impatient? How many times have we stood by the fax machine, or checked it three and four times, infuriated that a document has not yet arrived? How many times have we gotten upset when a bus or a plane has been late? How about when the copier jams and sets us back four or five minutes? We have become more and more impatient with each movement "forward" with technology. And impatience breeds impatience, and finally anger.

    Regarding patience, Allah says,...

    And seek help in patience and in prayer, truly it is hard except for the humble-minded. Holy Qur'an 2:45
    By Time. Surely, man is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and call one another to truth, and call one another to patience. Holy Qur'an 103:1-3

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

    Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "The strong is not the one who overcomes the people with his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger." Sahih Bukhari, vol 8, #135

    What has happened is that technological advancements have coincided with our transformation into a materialistic society. And virtues that cannot be measured, calculated, or touched are of little importance to the materialist. Things like patience, mercy, and trust hold little weight. And while popular culture encourages us to move quickly from one song to the next, one image to the next, one "news" item to the next, and one Sunday of football to the next, we find our attention spans withering. We are all becoming afflicted with an attention deficit disorder of sorts, which impacts the other realms of our lives in substantial ways. Just as we quickly move between sound bites and video clips, we seem to think that our interpersonal problems should be solved in a similar time frame. We try to do everything faster and we get frustrated when we cannot. So we have devolved into a culture of immediacy, a culture of the self, and a culture of the material.

  • Real Intentions:
    When doomsday cults, political activists, conspiracy theorists, and the poorer nations of the earth speak out against the Western/Northern consumption of the world's resources and advances in technology, they are often refuted with phrases like, "These things are designed to make our lives easier." "They save us time." But even a few seconds of reflection would reveal that we are more busy now than we have ever been. How can this be if these devices make things and people more efficient?

    The fact is, that these gadgets and devices are not developed to make life easier or our work more productive. They are designed to make money. Period.

  • Where did the Trust Go?
    Our reliance on our technological advancements has created a dependency on paper documents that contributes to our general lack of trust in others. A "Put it in writing" approach to human interaction has emerged and taken hold to such a degree that we do not trust anyone anymore. In fact, if it is in writing, we will trust one we should not trust. One of the signs of the approach of the Day of Judgement mentioned to us by our Prophet (peace be upon him) is that there will be years of deceit in which the truthful person will not be believed and the liar will be believed (Ahmad).

  • Spending Money that does not Exist:
    The development of credit cards has not only expanded the usurious industry of interest, but it has contributed to our impatience by creating a culture of instant gratification. We can no longer wait until we have enough money to purchase goods. Instead, now, we buy things with money that we do not yet possess. The concept of "credit" has given the illusion of wealth, which further pushes our sense of materialism, want, and desire to possess things. And it is all an illusion. Houses, cars, computers, vacations, etc...all of it purchased on credit, without actually having the money. The more we have, the more we want. And even more so...the more others have, the more we want.

  • What are we to do?:
    Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been reported to say, "Take yourselves to account before Allah takes you to account." And herein lies the solution. Were we to critically reflect on our own thoughts, intentions, and actions we might pre-empt our own impatience and anger. We might not get so angry in traffic or huff and puff when the copier jams.

    We should learn and study what the righteous scholars and imams of the past have said regarding patience. We should engage our spouses and children in similar exercises. We should surround ourselves with those who are patient and who do not complain. We must exercise critical thought regarding ourselves and do so in an honest fashion. We should ask others to remind us when we slip and we should be grateful when they do remind us. And perhaps most importantly, make du'aat that we become people of patience and insight.

    Allah knows best.

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