Friday, October 3, 2008

Pr. Beecroft on Technology

I had started a post this week on technology, agrarianism and what it means to be a person, a human. It sounded a little to paranoid and luddite, especially for me, considering I spent a few hours last evening trying out a live CD installation of Ubuntu.

So I checked Bloglines tonight and see that Pr. Beecroft has said some of what I wanted to say (thank you!). Read his post below, and consider it foundation for a post perhaps next week. I'm not sure I would agree with his conclusion, however. I'm not sure we can be liberated to enjoy the deathworks of technolatry. I think in many respects our liberation is expressed in denying it, it giving it no quarter. What do you think?

We live in a culture dominated by technology. Now I am no Luddite, but I am suspicious about how our highly technological environment has influenced our understanding of reality. We are surrounded by machines that do our bidding and provide us with a seemingly infinite amount of information. We have so much information that it must be stored in Gigabytes and Terrabytes. We have email, Blackberry phones, I-phones and I-pods, wireless hotspots, Facebook, laptops, Google, IM, LCD HDTV, etc. Communication is instant and has no boundaries. Our travel potential is limited only by our finances. Today, people can even vacation in space. Doctor visits are dominated by medical technology. Our children are entertained for hours by television, movies, X-Boxes, Wiis, and Playstations. We live in a world of unforeseen technology. Our world would have been considered impossible by our grandparents or great grandparents.

Yet what have all of these technological advances done for the human person? We may live a few years longer, on statistical average, but statistical average means nothing when you are terminally ill in your twenties. Are our lives more fulfilling and meaningful? Our entertainment devices may be able to distract us or draw us into strange alternative realities for a time, but we still struggle with contentment, relationships, depression and living life on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. We may have creature comforts, but we are not altogether comfortable. Do we have a better understanding of reality with the glut of information available through technology? I doubt it. We cannot even begin to process the information in a coherent manner. We are still befuddled by the vast universe and the immense complexity of the human being. Technology has certainly not ended war and violence. It has only made killing more efficient and sterile. Technology has not ended death. No matter how much genetic manipulation we attempt, death will eventually have its way. Technology may prolong life and offer healing, but not forever.

Neal Postman, in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology argues that the culture now lives in submission to technology and its promises, making human existence confused and incoherent. He says that technopoly “consists in the deification of technology, which means that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” We consume new gadgets made known through a technology-driven media. We are filled with hope at technological breakthroughs. We receive authority to act or believe from polls, technology-driven theories, and so-called scientific studies. Technology forms and informs the culture in which we live.

Bob Dylan, in his 1983 song License to Kill, critiques the effects of technology on man’s relationship to the world. He sings, “Now, he’s hell-bent for destruction, he’s afraid and confused, and his brain has been mismanaged with great skill. All he believes are his eyes, and his eyes, they just tell him lies.” Dylan is concerned that the human story had been so redefined by the promises of technology that existence had become meaningless and destructive. The modern person had become defined by the material, scientific, and technological. The mind of the modern person had been strictly educated in the classroom of human-centered theory, consumption and technology. Still, the modern person was afraid and confused, displaced and detached from reality. He only believed what he could see, yet he could not see what was true. His vision was distorted. In the late seventies, Dylan had become a Christian, which I suspect informed his view of the world and life, at least for the time.

As Christians who exist in this strange technological world, this technopoly, we are constantly challenged to understand our lives according to the larger drama of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Reality is not defined by technology in its various forms, but the one Triune God who creates and sustains all things. Reality is known in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, revealed in the Holy Scripture and the Ecumenical Creeds. The language of reality is not the language of technology, but the language of the Holy Christian Church: Father, creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, repentance, faith, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion, liturgy, Church, etc. Our minds are to be formed by God’s Word, His language, so that we understand reality in all of its impenetrable mystery. Minds managed in this way will see things as they truly exist. Eyes of faith will begin to apprehend, but never exhaust, the heavenly mysteries of the sacramental presence of Christ in our midst through His gifts along with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. In Jesus Christ, our lives have true meaning and significance, liberated to enjoy the 46-inch flat screen, games, or I-pods and no longer enslaved to technology and its empty, insufficient promises and theories.


  1. said...

    I'm not sure I agree with my conclusion either. The intrusion and domination of technology has had a deleterious effect on the human person and our relationships. My Macbook, Ipod, flat screen, and everything else distract and disorient me from myself and others. Like St. Anthony in the desert, however, we must confess that there is no escape from the temptations. We live in a difficult place and time. If you start the compound, then I'll try to talk my wife into coming along!