Five Things We the Church Need to Know About Technology (5 of 5): Technology Tends to Become Mythic

This is the final part of a five part series based on Neil Postman’s lecture “Five Things We Need to Know about Technological Change” applied to the church and spirituality.

  1. Technology Is Always a Trade-Off
  2. Technology Creates Winners and Losers
  3. Technology Contains a Powerful Idea
  4. Technology Is Ecological, Not Additive

5. Technology Tends to Become Mythic

hand crank window My boss tells a great story about the first time his 7-year-old son Jacob saw a car with rollup windows. He came running in the house and said,

“Dad, we have GOT to get a car with those awesome cranks!”

For little Jacob, a motorized window was the default kind of window. To him, it was as normal as a tree or cloud. He couldn’t imagine the world without them, but he hadn’t yet learned that he was only supposed to think of new things as “cool.”

Technology as Mythic in Culture

Every culture has things that started as “new,” but over time become “normal.” We eat hotdogs at baseball games, we have 12 grades, we wear tuxedos to weddings, and so on. These go unquestioned, because it’s just the way thing are. In this sense, they have become mythic. (Here a myth is not a fairy tale – it is a shared story that powerfully operates in a culture. In reality it might be true or false, but in either case it is influential).

Technology too eventually becomes mythic and unquestioned. Once a human invention seems like it has always been here – whether it’s a blow drier, Google maps, or the alphabet – it has achieved mythic status. It has become the default against which we judge other things. The only thing we can’t do (without appearing a complete fool) is question technology that has become mythic.

Technology as Mythic in the Church

We the church have also allowed technology and beliefs about technology to become unquestioned, or mythic. Here are a few examples:

  • Personal Bibles – We all know that it’s good to have a personal copy of the Bible. In fact, most of us have several. But this is a really new and recent phenomenon. Before the printing press made Bibles widely available, the only exposure one had to Scripture was the public reading of the community’s copy. While I love my copies of the Bible (and my Bible software), I also lament that few Christians today know more than a handful of a verses by heart, whereas many believers before the printing press memorized entire books! 

  • Technology = Progress – This is the foundational belief of our modern world. We believe that the more high tech something is, the better life will be. In reality this is mostly false, especially for Christians. High tech nations are not happier than low tech nations, and high tech churches are not more sanctified than low tech churches. The use of technology to reach a technological culture is wonderful, but we should be careful not to think more highly of that form of ministry than learning Cantonese to reach a Cantonese-speaking culture.

It is ironic that we young people who enjoy bucking trends and catch phrases like “Think Different” and “Question Everything” are so unwilling to question our technology. For us, it is like questioning our gender, our nationality, or mom’s apple pie. But if we are to be “in the world, but not of the world” we must question the technology we use and not allow it to become a more powerful myth than the great true myth of Christ’s power over all things.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the [technological] world but that you protect them from the evil one. (John 17:15)

Published by

John Dyer

In my day job, I work at Dallas Theological Seminary, and at night I write Bible software for countries whose leaders could be called "overlords." This one time, I wrote a book about technology and Christian faith. You can find out more about what I'm up to at http://j.hn/.

4 thoughts on “Five Things We the Church Need to Know About Technology (5 of 5): Technology Tends to Become Mythic”

  1. I would have to agree with what you said here as a general trend, but would have to append your comment that Technology = Progress in so much as we misunderstand technology. For the most part the generations under 30 see technology as the same as electronics (more specifically anything with processors). We forget that our food is more high tech then ever, our roads are billions in R&D and so on.

    With this being the trend, us having such a narrow view of what tech is, it forces us to lift up a certain skill set above others (which you mentioned earlier in the series). Good stuff.

    1. @Paul, thanks for your insight. Your great comment illustrates Postman’s point that certain technologies (the food industry, roads, cars, etc.) eventually become [i]mythic[/i] when we can’t think of them as technology any more. Perhaps I should have said “People who drive cars to churches with air conditioning are not necessarily more sanctified than people who walk to a shack for church.”

  2. This struck me:

    [quote]It is ironic that we young people who enjoy bucking trends and catch phrases like “Think Different” and “Question Everything” are so unwilling to question our technology.[/quote]

    So true. Recently I have been challenging myself to strip down, scale back, and unplug the highly connected worship ministry I lead. By connected I mean [i]amped[/i]- both sonically and visually.

    The impact shocks me with delight. We did one song acapella save a djembe, and it rocked. I am seeking to connect the people with other people, as opposed to connecting them to Guitar Hero.

    As you (Dyer) know, I [b]love[/b] technology. I use it whenever and wherever I can. Yet, it must submit to us, as our servant, not vice versa. We must constantly evaluate it as a tool to be used for building up people, and the Kingdom, not necessarily a sine qua non for ministry.

  3. Just stumbled across your blog and was excited to see that there are people like you expressing these things about technology. I’ve harped on this myself for years, writing Postman and McLuhan-inspired articles for Relevant and Christianity Today. I wrote something in the most recent Relevant magazine that you might be interested in–“The Problem of Pride in the Age of Twitter.” You can read it here if interested: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/issue/37.php

    Keep up the good work! I’ll definitely be coming back to this blog.

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