I wanted to go out one morning. I found myself putting a cell phone in my right pocket and other in my left. I went looking for another device I in my hand a few moments before. Then I went looking for the remote so I could unlock my car door. I thought about getting a bag to put all my devices in so that I would not lose any of them.
Our lives are permeated by electronic devices. We wake up in the morning to our cell phone’s alarm, and we check our messages before going to bed at night. Even our dreams today are filled with these devices. Indeed, many things that in past ages were in the realm of dreams are now possible for us because of technological devices. We can see people who have died and hear them speak. We can fly through the air and witness all sort of strange and exciting things. However, dreams are still more rebellious than our waking hours are towards the real world. Dreams better express how things affect us. They express our innermost thoughts and feelings without inhibition.
Then we wake up to the morning alarm, flick on the lights, and start a new day surrounded by the myriad devices of our mechanised world. Scholars have discussed about the long-term effects that living in the company of animals has on the behaviour of people like shepherds and cowhands. The Prophet said: “Pride and arrogance are characteristics of camel herders, while modesty and gentleness are the characteristics of shepherds.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]
Ibn Taymiyah writes:
When people live in the presence of certain animals, they take on some of their behaviours. This is how pride and arrogance become characteristics of camel herders and modesty and gentleness become the characteristics of shepherds. Camel herders and mule drivers acquire some bad traits as a consequence from the animals they work with. The same can be said for dog trainers. Likewise, tame animals acquire traits from the people they are constantly exposed to. They become sociable and less likely to flee. Similarities in outward behaviour indicate similarities in inward traits as well.
We should expect that our constant interaction today with machines will affect us in a similar way. We see machines and electronic devices as a convenience and a means for entertainment. We forget how many people are injured or killed by machines. They far outnumber the global casualties of war.
We have become very comfortable around machines, because they make our lives easier. They reduce the time and effort it takes for us to complete tasks. We forget the price we pay for this convenience. There is a cost to our health from the sedentary lifestyle dependence on machines leads to.
We become glued to our screens all the time, and this harms our eyesight, just like our headphones harm our ears. Our nervous systems and brains are also affected, not to mention our hearts. This is compounded by a lack of direct human contact. Our daily routines are disrupted as are our abilities to avail ourselves of life’s opportunities. We are so captivated by the instant gratification of pushbutton convenience that we lose out on real human experience. We like the abundance that is at our fingertips, but we forget the numbing effect that an overabundance brings about.
One reason we get so deeply involved with smart phones and other devices is because they are the style of our time. This is why it is not a good idea to shun them altogether or to forbid our families to use them. They are as much a part of Allah’s blessings as anything else. They are one aspect of the many ways in which Allah puts the world at our disposal. The problem is when we abuse these devices and let them dominate our lives.
However, instead of letting our lives and our souls become mechanised, we need to domesticate our devices. We should use them to bolster our good habits, strengthen our family ties, improve community cohesion, and bring the world closer together.
This is a fertile area that can further our values, beliefs, and time-tested goals. It can allow us to be prominent on the world scene and cooperate with others in a positive way instead of remaining as spectators on the margins.
It can help parents and children communicate. A mother might be able to say something to her daughter over the Internet that she is unable to express face to face. The same can be said for a father. He might be able to express his feelings to his son in a way he could never be able to do in person.
We need to learn how to use video games and the Internet, as we need to do more effectively with film and television, to build cultural connections and strengthen our ties with each other. These digital technologies can help family, friends, and colleagues keep in touch. We can use them to cultivate good Islamic values.
These technologies are ideal for Islamic outreach, since they can build bridges and create relationships between people of different countries, nationalities, and cultures.