Man With a Hammer Syndrome

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

 To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. 

 There’s some debate as to who originally used this phrase. Some attribute it to Mark Twain, however there’s little documentary evidence to prove this. Others refer to Abraham Maslow. Regardless, however, of the origin, it is worth investigating this notion further as we think about our response to digital technology.

When you pick up a hammer, what do you do? What do you feel? What is your natural instinct? If you’re anything like most people, you’ll probably feel the need to hit something with it. You might check the weight with a few practice swings, and then look around at what you might be able to hit. This good technology, created by man, has had an impact (if you’ll pardon the pun) on the person attached to the handle.

Before they picked up the hammer, they probably had no inclination to hit or strike anything. But the simple act of picking up this object has shaped their behaviour. In the same way that single, solitary cough in a quiet movie theatre can manufacture our own desire to cough, regardless of our physiological need to do so. Or the man who, riding a train, notices a sign – “do not spit” and then has an almost uncontrollable urge to do so.

Many people will argue that technology  is neutral. That it is ‘just a tool’ to be used as a means to an end which has no further influence upon us. Tim Challies, in his book The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion, argues that technology is not morally neutral.

“So while it is true that we please and honor God when we create and develop new technologies, we must also understand that technology is like everything else in this sinful world: it is subject to the curse. The things we create can-and will-try to become idols in our hearts. Though they enable us to survive and thrive in a fallen world, the very aid they provide can deceive us with a false sense of comfort and security, hiding our need for God and his grace. Though the devices and tools we create are inherently amoral, at the same time we would be foolish to believe that they are morally neutral. The things we create to assist us in overcoming the consequences of the curse also seek to dominate us, drawing our hearts away from God raher than drawing us toward him in dependence and faith. That iPhone in your pocket is not an “evil” device. Yet it is prone to draw your heart away from God, to distract you and enable you to rely on your own abilities rather than trusting God.”

He continues by discussing some of the tensions that exist between the good uses of particular technologies such as nuclear fusion. On the one hand being able to supply power to many, yet on the other hand having the potential to kill hundreds of thousands. Technology has a shaping influence, based upon the nature of the heart of he who wields it.

So what does that have to do with Digital Discipleship? What does it matter to me if a technology is neutral or not?

It means that as Christians, we have a responsibility. We must carefully consider our use of each technology in our lives and realise the shaping influence it has upon us. What good things might this technology be taking us away from? What is the opportunity cost of spending 5 minutes replying to a few emails on our mobile device? How could we have better spent those 5 minutes living in community with other believers? Having a (proper face to face) conversation with a friend? Encouraging or serving someone in need?

Then we also need to understand and carefully analyse where we are putting our trust and faith. Are we trusting that next and greatest iThingy will make our life SO much better? Are we getting so excited about our use of (a) technology that it consumes us? Are we beginning to idolise technology? Is technology replacing God in our lives? OR, are we trusting our creator God to love and sustain us? Are we getting excited about the time we spend resting in His majesty?

In all things, we must use technology in a redemptive fashion, such that the way we interact with this digital technology encourages others (and ourselves) to draw closer to Jesus and to put faith in him.


>> Image Courtesy ‘Artbystevejohnson’ on Flickr with a Creative Commons Attribution Licence

>> Law of the Instrument or Maslow’s Hammer

>> The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion

>> Tim Challies



About Dave

Dave is passionate about the use of technology in education, and helping students to develop a biblical understanding of digital technology. Dave is currently teaching at Covenant Christian School.