The Right/Wrong Dichotomy
It’s great for us to be thinking about how to please our Savior, redeem the world, and earn more crownage (2 Tim 4:8), but sometimes this leads us to putting everything we encounter into either a “right” bucket or “wrong” bucket. Then, when something comes along that’s neither clearly moral or immoral, the only “bucket” we have left is the amoral “how we use it” bucket.
If this is as far as we can go, then our moral thinking has put a major limitation on us.
All Hail McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan wrote,
Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. (Understanding Media, 17-18)
McLuhan is saying that we become “technological idiots” when we simply place all technology in the “how you use it” bucket without understanding that any use of technology – for immoral or moral ends – will have some effect on us. In other words, we need more buckets for thinking about technology. We need to be able to discuss cognitive, relational, and physical effects of technology without immediately reverting into “good,” “bad,” or “how you use it” categories.
Technological Idiocy in Action
To see this in action, check out this article in Relevant Magazine where the author brings up some recent research into the effect that the constant flow of quick information has on people. Sadly, many of the commenters blindly assume the stance of “the technological idiot” because the only buckets they have are “good,” “bad,” and “how you use it.” Notice how the word “used” shows up over and over:
- Used properly, Twitter can be an amazing tool for …
- When used in a self-centered fashion …
- To me it seems like every good thing is only good when used within reason ...
- every thing can be used for good and for bad, it totally depends on a person.
- It is what you make it. You can choose to use it to ….
Of course, they are right to say one can use Twitter for good or bad, but they also believe that all mediums are exactly “like anything else” and have no effect on us:
- Twitter is like any other personal communications medium …
- Like everything, it will be used for good and abused by ego maniacs …
- Like anything though, we can use twitter to …
- Twitter is, like any development in technology, a tool. What is done with that tool is entirely up to the users …
They are simply unable to engage in a discussion of how various mediums uniquely shape us and our world.
Increasing Our Mental Bandwidth
Again, it’s important and right for us to think morally and attempt to use technology for morally good ends while also guarding against immorality like sexting. However, thinking Christians must resist the temptation to limit their thinking to only moral terms which so commonly leads to what McLuhan called “technological idiocy.”
Otherwise, it will only be those outside the faith community not limited in their categories doing all the hard, thoughtful work on technology and culture (see Nicholas Carr, Andrew Keen, Steven Johnson, and others). If we are truly concerned with “engaging culture,” we will have to remove the morality throttle on our mental bandwidth so we can discuss media and technology at a deeper, more thoughtful level.
Now go out and get yourself some more buckets.