Technology, most broadly defined, is anything we make or use to extend our personal power.
- A hammer is a technology in that it extends the length and focuses the power of our arms to drive a nail into a wall.
- The interstate highway system is a technology that it increases our ability to move rapidly across our nation and around our cities.
- A telescope is a technology that multiplies the power of our eyesight through a combination of lenses so that we can see incredibly distant objects in great detail.
Humans from our earliest days of historical record have been creating technologies.
- The iconic example of the cave man and the wheel
- The discovery of combining flint and tinder to create fire
- The fixing of a sharp rock to the end of a stick to create a spear capable of taking down a mammoth.
But we are living in an age in which the SPEED of technological advancement is RAPIDLY increasing.
- It took several centuries for weaponry to advance from swords and longbows to rifles and machine guns, but only a couple decades to go from machine guns to nuclear bombs.
- It took almost 2,000 years to go from the cutting edge technology of Roman roads to the trailblazing wonders of the American transcontinental railroad…but only 200 years to go from the railroad to the digital and globally connecting pathways of the internet.
We are beginning to recognize that the PACE of technological innovation throughout human history has not been LINEAR but rather EXPONENTIAL.
For the majority of our collective history, we have been living through the flat part of the beginning of the curve, but the line is steepening, our collective creative productivity multiplying, and with it our world and lives changing faster and faster.
This increased pace of change has subjected TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION to MORAL, ETHICAL, and even SPIRITUAL EXAMINATION:
- With the Advent of technologies that so dramatically increase a human being’s ability to affect the world around us, and even technologies that are implanted into our bodies to augment or change our physicality,
- What does it mean to be HUMAN in a technologically transforming world?
- Is there something essential to the human body, mind, consciounesness, or experience that we need to GUARD against technological advance?
- Albert Einstein once said, “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” Is this true? If so, should we be worried about it? How should we respond?
- Is technology good or evil? We have begun to ask.
And while there are extreme positions on both sides
- from futurists who believe human destiny lies in building our own technological utopia on one side
- to anti-technological Luddites who believe technology is the devil on the other,
- the collection of mainstream views on the moral, ethical and spiritual quality of technology seems to assert that while technology itself is neutral (i.e. neither inherently good nor evil), the USES to which it is put in human hands can be GREATLY good or evil.
- This position could be summed up by the famous T-shirt quote: “Guns don’t kill people, I kill people.”
- the implication of course being that technology is not the angel or the devil, but the person WEILDING the technology.
And while I agree with this mainstream viewpoint, I don’t think it goes deep enough or captures a complete enough picture.
- You’ve likely heard the phrase “those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.”
- A contemporary version of this expression could be “those who use smart phones frequently, will inevitably find their lives SHAPED by the smart phone.”
The technologies we USE INFLUENCE US.
- Author James K.A. Smith writes about this principle through his discussion of religious worship. “Liturgy,” or the collective order, rites, and practices of worship, is a sort of religious technology created to SHAPE religious adherents toward their desired spiritual ends.
- As we engage repeatedly and over time in a specific liturgy, that liturgy will have a shaping influence over our spirituality.
- Scientific studies of neuro-plasticity back this up.
o Your brain is not static, it is malleable.
o Practices you engage in frequently will stimulate your brain in a specific way and cause your brain to reorganize itself to desire and expect that specific stimulus.
o The neurological shorthand for this says that brain nerves and synapse pathways that “fire together, wire together.”
o This is how addictions from substance abuse to obsessively checking your facebook app for notifications form.
- Undeniably, our societal and cultural liturgy in the West is a TECHNOLOGICAL one.
o Everyday we engage with a multiplicity of technologies.
o And while we intend to use these technologies for good or evil,
o We must likewise recognize that they are shaping US even as we are wielding THEM.
§ I INTEND to use Facetime technology to connect with friends and family across the world…an undeniable good…
§ But oftentimes this expansive ACCESS to people and events across the world can pull my attention away from the here and now.
§ My body could be in my living room with my family…but my brain could be with my friend on vacation in Thailand.
§ And this DIFFUSION of my focus and my power…assisted by technology…actually decreases my joy and limits my connection with BOTH my family who is present as well as my friend who is far away.
§ University of Montana philosopher Albert Borgman speaks of the “blessed burdens” of human limitations: our brains are biologically designed to work best when focusing on 1 task…not multitasking, psychologically we only have the capacity for 30-40 close friendships or significant relationships, not 5,000 facebook friends.
And so the question is this: how can we engage with technology in a way that we maximize the GOOD in our world and in our lives? What practices can we live into ourselves and/or advocate to others that could shape us as good, wise, and benevolent USERS of technology for good purposes
- There are many different specific applications of these questions.
- The biggest one, I personally have at the moment is “how can technology serve to INCREASE our ability to be PRESENT where we are?”
- I.e. can a smart phone increase my ability to love my family and be present to my neighbors.
- If so, how?
- What practices could I add to my cultural liturgy so as to make sure technology serves me in the way I intend rather than me serving technology as it intends.
You may have different questions about specific technologies, so as we break into groups for discussion I’d love to invite your conversation and discussion around these questions:
1) How can we engage with technology in a way that maximizes the GOOD in our world and in our lives?
2) What practices can we live into ourselves and/or advocate to others that will shape us as good, wise, and benevolent USERS of technology for good purposes?
3) What moral, ethical, spiritual questions are rising up for you in your life right now as you consider your own use of technology and how its usage is shaping your life?