Technology: tool or trouble

J.R. links to a fascinating article in which a former senior Xerox scientist and a high schooler discuss the future of technology. He poses the question: "What's your take on technology?"

I've been thinking about this a lot since I'm in part a tech guy. I really like using technology for worship experiences, though I know that there has to be a much deeper core or it won't be worship, no matter what tech is there. I do believe that e-mails and web boards and blogs introduce us and relate us to ideas and people we wouldn't otherwise know...sounds like community to me! ...and that it's good to use technologies we're using anyway to transmit and translate the Gospel.

(As an aside, if you want to explore a little of the generational perspectives, go read J.R.'s post, then the article. I'll wait. ... tap... tap... tap...)

So J.R. asked for our take on technology: Is it a curse or blessing? Here's my comment on his post. What's your take?

A hammer's a neutral piece of technology -- you can use it to drive a nail or split a skull. At least until everyone's carrying a hammer and whacking at each other.

Technology is by nature neutral as well. But the way the culture uses it influences our choices to use it for good or for evil. As my places of ministry embrace technology I see potential, and I also worry about becoming a slave to it (mostly because I'm the tech guy as well as the content guy).

But I think that anything that becomes just assumed in work and life poses that danger of making one a slave. I sometimes worry that the weekly rhythm of curating and preparing for worship saps my time, energy and passion for living out my call in other ways.

I found it interesting that the teenager seemed to want more balance than the senior scientist -- it's easy for us to accept 'the way it is' as we get older. It's also possible that his place in life allows him more natural balance than many of us can assume.

Either way it's an interesting contrast between a modern "tech and progress" view and the relational, more holistic approach to life Shannon described. I'm not sure she's completely representative of her generation's views on technology...but I hope her voice is heard.

So what's my take? Technology isn't the great Satan and it isn't going to solve our communal problems. It isn't impirically neutral but it is what we make of it. I feel like I need to monitor it more to see where it is feeding relationship and balance, and where it is fighting it, and avoid it where it isn't helping.

Thanks for posting the link!


erin_m said...

It's funny (or maybe not) that I was having a conversation much like this one last night with some friends - One of whom has recently returned from a business trip in India.

The conversation wrapped around a few themes - culture, poverty, technology, and what is luxury and what are we slaves to.

"In India", my friend commented, "people seem to have time to stop for conversations with one another or to help one another with a task, and they never seem rushed or in a hurry." There are may cultures like this in the world - but what stuck me was what he said next - "We have the luxury of all this technology . . . ", and then he took this long pause and looked at me and I said, "or is it that we are slaves to all this technology". We sat in silence for a moment with those thoughts.

I agree that technology in itself is neutral, and we as humans - are given the choice in how we use it.

I am not at all surprised that the young woman was more attuned to the need for balance. I think we all crave it and seek it, and those who are younger tend to have a deeper sense of how the extensive use of technology effects the relationships around them. Many of us who are older grew up in a world where there was much more face to face interaction. We have experience in that - we were mentored in how to "be together" for better or worse. Can we still mentor the next generations into those interactions - or do we only teach them how to interact with computer language?

As with anything we deal with - balance and moderation continue to be important. I think the question of technology is symptomatic of a larger concern. What is it that we seek? (where are our hearts?)

Jason Hesiak said...

The following was a comment I posted to JR's post, having in mind that most of my audience was people I know from my church here in LA. For those of you on the East Coast who don't know me - I'm nost such an angry person. I get kind of fired up about this stuff. God bless all of you. I hope my comment takes you to the depths of your soul to meet God...

I have to say right out that, as I read that article, and in knowing in which direction we are heading because of the attitude that most of us hold on these issues, I had to hold in my rage ("It's well beyond rage..." - Braveheart). I should also mention, however, that I have struggled with this very issue of rage over this very topic of technology greatly over the past months, and successfully holding in my rage was MUCH easier than, say, eight months ago.

Anyway, I just read the following the other day from Brennan Manning in his book, The Importance of Being Foolish, (I will explain how it applies in a moment) "The more man knows about meterology, the less inclined he is to make the sign of the Cross during a thunderstorm. Airplanes now fly above, below, and around entire storms. Satellites reduce these once-terrifying events to photographs. What ignominy (if a thunderstorm could experience ignominy) to be reduced from theophany to nuisance!"

"What does meterology have to do with the digital revolution?", one might ask. Good question. Basically, my point is this. The brunt of Western history has followed the course of the conquestedors; and the things in our path to be conquered have been many, some great, some smaller. But, essentially, the basic idea of MODERN history was an undertaking to conquer the WHOLE world. The implicit essence of the beginning of POST-modernity is the assumption that modernity has ended, meaning WE HAVE CONQUERED THE WORLD. Of course thundersorms are now just one of the small ignominies of the world. The world is now a nuissance. Why live in it?

"As you said, one of the challenges we all face today is maintaining a balance between the physical and the digital (pardon the expression) but actually the balance is between 'the now' and tomorrow and 'the here' and elsewhere. You are way too young to realize this, but this is nothing new. Wait 'til you are married and see what it is like to talk to someone who is only half there - no digital devices involved! We all zone out from time to time. In the past people complained about the emptiness of small talk at cocktail parties."

That "past" was DURING MODERN history - when some folks with some vision SAW WHAT WAS COMING!!!! Who has read "The Wasteland", by T.S. Eliot? "Do you know Nothing. Do you see, Nothing." "Remember, Phleobus the Phoenician/Those are pearls that were his eyes/He was once as handsome and tall as you."

Do you think God ever "zones out" of OUR lives? Do you desire to "zone out" of God's life? "My God is the God of the living, not the dead"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jeeez.

And one more thing. I wish we had enough sense to talk about the essence of technology, the soul (and how it relates to our soul), rather than all the exterior results (and how they "effect the world" (which we now think of as OUR world, since we've so conquered it). That goes for all of us (me included). "What is it to gain the world but loose your soul?" The destruction of such a way of thinking and seeing is already rampant, and growing.

With due dilligence we see that technology, at its origin, is really simply the appearance of artifact in the world in direct connection and relation to that very artifact's possibility for not appearing in the world. It was originally about life and death. Man's making of an artifact was a confirmation of his existence, out of a truthful and in some cases healthy fear for his lack of existence ("There is no control in the day of death" - Ecclesiastes). The Tower of Babel would be one "unhealthy" example, to say the least. Anyway - Of course this original idea of technology goes back much farther than even the beginning of modern history, and has been almost entirely lost.

But has it? Why are we afraid to BE with our friends? Why do we slip away into the deathly Neverland of myspace, TV and cocktails? Are we afraid of our life, or our death? The kenosis is hidng around every street corner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenosis). But none of us ever even just walk down the street with our own two lege, because, with ease after the power of technology, we're always just driving down the freakin' street in a motorized car.

"The language is too strong. The people won't understand. It is more prudent to render these dangerous maxims harmless. Pour as much wine as possible into the fiery wine of Christ. After all, he was Eastern." - Brennen Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish.

It's funny, however - just this past week I had finally decided that I was going to get a cell phone. I may be reconsidering. Arrgh.

Honestly - I get all worked up. Sorry for those of you who are intrigued by what I'm saying but are turned off by my language and my anger. There is a message. I wish I could have one on one conversations with you all to get at the workings of "technology" in our lives and our souls - we are all different. Such an opportunity would be filled with a bit more tenderness, I would hope.


Bob said...


I hear your passion about this. It is true that on the consumer level we take more and more of the miracles of the world for granted, and we are far from a time when people make the sign of the cross at a mere thunderstorm. (At an impending Katrina, perhaps.) But it's also true that we know that many of the models we learned -- atomic structure, colonialism, respect for authority, etc. -- aren't as true as we thought. We know that leaders lie, that there are strange forces and particles much smaller and, well, stranger than protons and electrons. We know that we don't know all we know -- there are unknown unknowns, as Rumsfeld says. So the postmodern age is both an age in which, in some sense, we have conquered the world, but in a larger sense, we know that it is bigger and more mysterious than the moderns led us to believe.

Keep struggling with the questions and keep looking for balance. We're not going to put the technological genie back in the bottle, but we can work to make sure it serves us, not us it.

Bob said...

Erin, I agree that it's really a question of what's at the center. In our age of continuous partial attention (see this post) it becomes harder to hold onto a center. I find it's harder even with the intention to hold on to it, because all the distractions -- digital and other -- steal focus and keep us from practicing the center with new focus when we get drawn away. The deeper issue isn't technology, it's whether we can hold onto our Center against the values of consumer society. Peace, Bob