One the most influential books on my thinking about society, culture, and technology has been Auburn professor Murray Jardine’s 2004 work entitled:
The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity from Itself
The book is now out of print, but I have an unmarked copy, so if you’d like it, please leave a comment below (an RSS feed add would be great too, but of course not required). I’ll choose a random person in a week or so.
(also, please note that there is a point being made in this post)
In the latest issue of the online journal Themelios, D. A. Carson’s editorial is largely concerned with technology. Here’s a choice quote:
Scarcely less important than speed of access is the Internet’s sheer intoxicating addictiveness–or, more broadly, we might be better to think of the intoxicating addictiveness of the entire digital world. Many are those who are never quiet, alone, and reflective, who never read material that demands reflection and imagination. The iPods provide the music, the phones constant access to friends, phones and computers tie us to news, video, YouTube, Facebook, and on and on. This is not to demonize tools that are so very useful. Rather, it is to point out the obvious: information does not necessarily spell knowledge, and knowledge does not necessarily spell wisdom, and the incessant demand for unending sensory input from the digital world (says he, as he writes this on a computer for an electronic theological journal) does not guarantee we make good choices. We have the potential to become world citizens, informed about every corner of the globe, but in many western countries the standards of geographical and cross-cultural awareness have seriously declined. We have access to spectacularly useful information, but most of us diddle around on ephemeral blogs and listen to music as enduring as a snowball in a blast furnace. Sometimes we just become burned out by the endless waves of bad news, and decide the best course is to turn the iPod volume up a bit. (emphasis mine)
The entire article is largely a reflection on his book Christ and Culture Revisited more than a piece on pure technology, but it is very good. Here is the conclusion:
I shall not here review the Christian resources God has kindly lavished on us to enable us not to conform to the pattern of this world. If we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, then we must be reading the Scriptures perennially, seeking to think God’s thoughts after him, focusing on the gospel of God and pondering its implications in every domain of life. We need to hear competing voices of information from the world around us, use our time in the digital world wisely, and learn to shut that world down when it becomes more important to get up in the morning and answer emails than it does to get up and read the Bible and pray. We may also learn much from church history, where we observe fellow believers in other times and cultures learning the shape of faithfulness. We begin to detect how easily the “world” may squeeze us into its mold. We soon learn that adequate response is more than mere mental resolve, mere disciplined observance of the principle “garbage in, garbage out” (after all, we are what we think), though it is not less than that. The gospel is the power of God issuing in salvation. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in the shadow of the cross and resurrection, we find ourselves wanting to be conformed to the Lord Jesus, wanting to be as holy and as wise as pardoned sinners can be this side of the consummation. (emphasis mine)
HT: Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds.
If you like reading short stories, I’ve got a great one for you. In 1909, E. M. Forster published the short story The Machine Stops which told of a future in which humans live in temperature-controlled underground rooms with no outside human contact, communicating to others exclusively using“cinematophoes” (his prediction of video conferencing).
The story was written
- before TVs and computers, just after the first radios
- before dishwashers, washing machines, air conditioning, universal electrical lighting, and fast food
- before cars were mainstream, just after the Wright brothers’ flight
- people having 1000s of “friends” that they never see in person (including family), only on a screen
- people eating processed foods and loosing physical strength
- people feeling totally overloaded by the sheer amount of communication they receive every day
- the total, unquestioning acceptance of technology by society and the rejection of original thought
The story is a fascinating look at what would happen if society got to a point where people could only relate to one another through some kind of technology (bonus for alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and foreshadowing everything from Brave New World to The Matrix to Wall-E). The story focuses on a mother and son’s relationship, and it’s was a little eerie to me because my mom also lives lives far away, and we mostly communicate through phone calls, email, facebook, etc. Thankfully my mom loves to visit and would never prefer the virtual world over the real world.
Though the author is not writing as a Christian, he seems to understand that the fullness of human relationship and being happens in the physical world, the world into which the Son of God incarnated himself. Technological mediums are great for enabling relationships when one can’t be physically present, but we need to careful that it doesn’t replace real-life contact. Not only does it erode our relationships, it ultimately can erode what we are as humans. Yikes!
If you get a chance to read the story let me know what you think.