Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

1984 vs. Brave New World

In the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman contrasts the worries about future technology by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). Though much has been made about the totalitarian government depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Postman highlights how Orwell and Huxley’s contrasting worries play out in information and importance. While Orwell worried that good information would be hidden by a scary government, Huxley worried good information would be hidden in a pile of insignificance.

Postman’s words were recently amazingly illustrated by Stuart McMillen. Here is one of the panels

Orwell-Information

Huxley Informatino

Continue reading Dostoevsky’s 1984 Saved Him from Our Brave New World

BibleTech:2009 – Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

The fine folks at Logos have posted the audio and slides of the BibleTech:2009 conference talks. Here is my presentation slides synced with the audio using slideshare.net. (note: the title is a nod to Shane Hipps’ book Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith)

Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

Continue reading BibleTech:2009 – Technology is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith

Read the Bible: Greek and Hebrew Reading Experiment

Reader's Greek and HebrewFor my BibleTech:2009 presentation (“Technology Is Not Neutral: How Bible Technology Shapes Our Faith“), I created an example site to demonstrate what I like to call “technological minimalism” in Bible software. In my seminary Greek and Hebrew classes, I often relied too heavily on my Bible software during translations and my ability to actually read the text suffered. What I needed was some way to turn off all the cool features and only see the help that I really needed. In my case, I was supposed to have memorized all the Greek works which were used 50 times or more, so I only needed definitions for the more rare words. Unfortunately, there is no way to limit this that I know of in Logos.

Continue reading Read the Bible: Greek and Hebrew Reading Experiment

Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Better Off by Eric BrendeBetter Off (2005, Harper Perennial) is probably the most clever title of any technology book I’ve read.

The book is Eric Brende’s retelling of his 18 months living with a lo-tech Mennonite-like community as part of his graduate work in MIT’s STS Program which studies the influence of technology on society. What makes the book so fun is that its not an abstract work full of theories and technical terms, but instead tells a fascinating true story of a family’s attempt to draw closer together by turning off our super connected world. Continue reading Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology

Book Review: Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps

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Shane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels is a well-written, thought-provoking look at how technology can shape us and our faith. If you are at all interested in technology and ministry, this book is a must read. It goes down easy, but packs a punch!

About the Author and the Book

Shane Hipps is a pastor of a Mennonite church in Arizona, but he began his professional career in the advertising world, working for high profile clients such as Porsche. He spent years studying  how to use media and technology to convince them the needed to buy certain products to be fulfilled or significant. This experience along with studying Marshall McLuhan’s media theory gives him unique insight into the ways media influences people and their faith.

Hipps’ first book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture covered much the same material but was address to church leaders. With Flickering Pixels, Hipps has reworked and added to that material, purposing it for a more general audience. The chapters are fun and easy to read, longer than a blog post without being heavy or academic.

The Message of the Book

The main aim of Flickering Pixels is to dispel the commonly held myth that “the methods change, but the message is the same.” Instead, Hipps uses McLuhan’s idea that “The medium is the message” to show how various mediums have shaped what the Church believes and values. He walks through the progression of culture from oral to print to visual to digital and shows how each new technology shifted our beliefs. For example, the medium of print lends itself toward rational, logical, and linear thinking which leads to an understanding of the gospel in the categories of systematic theology and “Four Laws.” The recent shift toward a more visual culture brought on by photographs and televisions has seen a renewed emphasis on the gospel as story and a devaluing of systematic thinking.

In the later part of the book, Hipps discusses God’s usage of various media to communicate to his people, using the burning bush to communicate holiness, an ass to show Balaam his asinine actions, and ultimately his Son, Jesus Christ to communicate his deep love for humanity. Hipps then argues that the Body of Christ, the Church is God’s current medium and that how we communicate and act is as important as what we communicate. Rather than exist as individualistic flickering pixels, Hipps wants us to deeply connect to one another in faith communities, forming a beaming “city on a hill” that clearly communicates the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Moving Forward

Hipps’ aim in the book is not to classify technology as good or bad, but to give the Church tools to understand it. He says, “we are only puppets of our technology if we remain asleep; Flickering Pixels will wake us up” and help ensure that we use technology instead of technology using us.

The main critique I would offer is that I wish Hipps would have spent more time on the Internet and the technologies it has spawned. He mentions email, facebook, and mobile phones briefly, but does not delve as deeply into their significance as I might have hoped. Perhaps this is because the Internet is too young for anyone to fully understand, but it may also betray that Hipps himself has not delved very far into Internet usage and that McLuhan’s insights only go so far. Hopefully, then, this book will enable the next generation to more thoroughly evaluate the Internet as a medium in order to know how the Church can best use it without being used by it.

So now, go, buy Flickering Pixels, and discuss it with your kids, your friends, and your small group. (You need this book!)

Book Giveway: The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society by Murray Jardine

1587430703One 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)

Facebook and Video Chat predicted 100 years ago! [Recommended Reading]

image 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

He predicts

  • 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.