The Table Project: Values Driven Technology?

The Table Project is one of many new socially oriented web platforms being released for churches, and I normally don’t take the time to highlight or discuss all of them, but I want to make special mention of the Table Project based on its introductory video which you can watch here:

Technology and Values

In my writing and speaking, one theme I try to get across is that everything humans make, from chairs to iPhones, contains a value system. “Value” is a tricky and perhaps overused word, but when I use the word value with technology, I am talking about what becomes important to a person through the use of a tool. For example, car travel values the individual being able to choose exactly where and when he wants to go, while air travel values speed at the expense of individual preference.

The values in a technological tool come from two sources: (1) what the designers intended the tool to do, and (2) the patterns of use that emerge as the technology becomes widely used. The trixy part is the usage pattern the designers intended doesn’t always match up with how society as a whole eventually uses it.

For example, Twitter started out as a tool for blasting out text messages to one’s friends (the values of the designers), but over time its users wanted to reply to one another (leading to the @reply convention) and echo what others were saying (which created the retweet). Increasingly, we look to Twitter for news, entertainment, and constant interaction.

The task for Christians is to figure out where the values built into a technology’s usage conflict with the values system Christ gave us. For example, Jesus models things like being physically present, having  times of solitude and focus, and memorizing Scripture. We, however, through the use of online technology have come to value being virtually connected, being always online, and using our phones to search for verses we don’t want to memorize.

The problem here is not technology itself, but that when we use it unreflectively we often find ourselves marching to its built-in value system instead of living out of the values modeled by Christ.

The Table Project

What does this have to do with the Table Project? Well, I haven’t used the Table Project, and I haven’t even seen the product mockups, so I really don’t know. But the reason I’m pointing them out is that their introduction video is an example of what I like to think of as “Values Driven Technology.”

They begin the video with a 30 second walk through of church history and technological change showing that they understand that sometimes the usage pattern of a technology can lead to a set of values that conflict with what the church is supposed to be. They then tell you the values they believe the church should have and how they want to build a tool to help churches live out those values. They seem to recognize that “social technology” has a tendency to be used  in a rather anti-social manner, and so they are attempting to build something that works against those values.

Again, I have no idea if they’ll be successful, but here are some of the values that I appreciated, some of which are in direct conflict with the normal usage patter of social technology:

  • Everything within the Table is built for the local, physical church.
  • Group Interaction, not self expression.
  • Sharing, not broadcasting.
  • Personal, not anonymous.
  • Intimate, not public.
  • Physical, not virtual.
  • Local, not global.
  • A gift, not a product.

A few months ago they held a contest for churches to become beta testers. Instead of asking individuals to send in pictures and requests on Twitter, they asked churches to put together a giant, real-life table, invite members of their church to a dinner party, take a picture, and then as a church send that picture in. In doing this, they found a way to use online technology, but start from the New Testament values of presence, sharing, and togetherness.

I am probably imposing my own views on The Table Project a bit (for example, they say “technology is just a tool,” a statement I don’t find helpful), but I really do like the idea of what they’re doing, and I wish them the best.

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/.

5 thoughts on “The Table Project: Values Driven Technology?”

  1. Doomed. Noble, but doomed.

    Nobody wants another social network they feel obligated to check in with every day, especially when they’d be checking in with the same people they’re already checking in with every day on Facebook.

    It would be like talking to the same person on two phones, one in each ear. “Let’s talk about life in general in the left one, but churchy, intimate stuff on the right one, ok?”

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