questioning technology

Technology is everywhere.

And these days, the technology we hear about is related to all-things social - Facebook, twitter, Google+, on and on and on... And technology is often represented by those cool, hip devices that have an “i” affixed to their name and which we all have to own - purely for functional purposes, of course ;-).

This week I received in the mail (yes, and on paper no less!) a challenging set of articles out of Regent College discussing the understanding and use of technology from a Christian perspective. It’s well worth the read - available online here.

A few things stood out to me:

1. Technology can enhance existing relationships, but is limited in creating them. Dr. Albert Borgmann makes the interesting comment that while “we should certainly recognize [social media strengths] and use social media to reinvigorate parishes and families...if there is no existing community, then social media is unsatisfying in and of itself.” His comment made me think how when it comes to technology - social media in particular - the old adage “quantity vs. quality” still applies. That is, don't place too much value on your number of Facebook friends, or you Twitter ranking, or blog stats - these present an incomplete image of reality for who you are in relationship to others. A timely reminder for all.

2. Creativity is needed to break our technological addiction. Too often basic techniques of addiction therapy are applied to how we respond to overuse of technology. “To combat the addiction, you have to discard the addicting substance” David Stearn quotes about common practice. But Stearns feels such an approach is both unhelpful and unrealistic, failing to account for the complexity of life in our technological culture. “If we cannot realistically give up a new device or social medium, we are left feeling hopeless.” And in the process, Stearns suggests, we miss examining how we might envision “an active domestication that reshapes the device or medium to be more closely aligned with our particular social values.” We need to figure out how to use technology well, not just get rid of it.

3. Hesitant technology users (“Luddites” says Ron Wilson) are often looked down at. I'll admit, I've experienced this. The “what, you don’t have a cell phone?” of a mere 3 years ago (to which I finally relented) has already turned into “what, you don’t have a iPhone? You are a pastor, aren't you?” Any questioning of technological advance, especially regarding social media or personal devices, is seen as regressive on all levels, however relevant the questions are. Yet isn’t it good to evaluate our use of technology in light of pointed observations such as this one Wilson makes: “Technology has lulled us all into a belief that we are available, accessible, and responsible 24/7 (a claim that belongs only to the triune God!).” My wife and I like to say (only partially joking): if you can’t reach us at home, that probably means we don’t want to talk to you.

4. And this is just funny: Upon receiving a Facebook friend request from “Martha S (623 friends)” Iwan Russel-Jones offers this comical observation: “What!! Martha and I have been close acquaintances for more than twenty-three years, during all of which time she has been my daughter. But she, too, at this point in time, feels the need to be my friend.”

These articles set up nicely for a set of lectures next month at Regent College. Dr. Albert Borgmann will be presenting this years Laing Lectures on October 19-20, titled “The Lure of Technology: Understanding and Reclaiming the World.” Should be very interesting.


Ryan said...

It's funny, I had just finished reading these articles before I checked your blog :). Great food for thought in this issue—lots of challenges to our, at times, uncritical embrace of technology. I would really like to attend the Laing Lectures this year... Guess I'll have to wait for the audio to be released.

David Warkentin said...

Speaking of technology, someone should invent a Regent-grad portal/transporter thing so that wherever we are in the world, we can suddenly find ourselves on Regent's steps at our leisure. That would be good use of technology in my books!

Ryan said...


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