Friday, July 11, 2008

The iPhone and Technological Discernment


My first personal computer was an Atari 400, purchased in 1980. It could not get on the Web, as there was no Web. It did not have WiFi, as there was no WiFi. It did not have Bluetooth, a multi-touch interface, gigabytes of storage, a super fast processor, or a 3G network to access.

But it did have character, as you can tell by the photo. Or maybe it was just ugly. Back in those days there were many upstart computer companies. Most of them don't exist anymore such as the Osborne computer line (giant sowing machine sized boxes with tiny screens).

And today arrives the iPhone 3G. At $199, it's a lot more affordable than the initial high-end $599 model, though once one factors in the contract commitment and increased monthly service fee, the cost over time is perhaps not such a bargain as it initially seems.

One thing that is troubling about new technologies is, despite the ability to communicate at any time, we seem to have little of substance to say to one another. Are these merely entertainment devices, meant as diversions to console us from our miseries - to paraphrase Pascal - or can we find some greater meaning and purpose in these technologies? Granted, there are other options, but I fail to see meaningful, deep, and lasting communication taking place, for instance, via text messaging.

Does our usual inability to exegete technology, or even to want to understand and parse it on a meaningful level, signal a decline in the traditional human characteristic of intellectual analysis and healthy curiosity? Where do body and soul fit into the scheme of modern technology?

Douglas Groothuis astutely observed in his 1997 book The Soul in Cyberspace, "When we become engrossed in the capacities of a powerful new technology, our critical faculties may be overwhelmed by the pragmatics of making the thing work and by the sheer delight of exploring new experiences" (p. 28).

Are we children? Do we see a shiny new tech toy and become dazzled by it? But we don't often, if at all, stop to think about the implications. Will it help us love God and neighbor? Will it mar our soul?

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in The Hobbit, "It's a dangerous business walking out your front door." It's also a dangerous business embracing new technologies uncritically. Says Groothuis, "For those souls not firmly anchored in Christ's salvation and commission, cyberspace can be hazardous to virtue and the human flourishing that God intends" (p. 35).

We are in danger of becoming much less than God intends us to be, both to our detriment, as well as to the detriment of society.

3 comments:

Randy Hurst (propheT) said...

So, Robert, have you come up with some handy guidelines as to how we are to make decisions that are God honoring at the intersection of technology and holiness?

Robert Velarde said...

Randy, thanks for your post. I don't particularly have a list of handy guidelines in relation to the philosophy of technology and holiness, but I can list some of my influences, as well as some relevant biblical passages.

Some influences in this area include The Soul in Cyberspace by Douglas Groothuis, All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes by Kenneth Myers, Redeeming Pop Culture by T.M. Moore, Technopoly and Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, and Blaise Pascal's writings on diversion as found in Pensees.

I don't agree with everything these individuals say, but they offer helpful and thoughtful starting points for approaching the intersection of Christianity, popular culture, and technology. In Pascal's case, of course, the application of his insights apply to entertainment and diversion in general, though I did blog about Pascal and the iPod once.

In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, the apostle Paul writes: "'Everything is permissible for me' — but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me' — but I will not be mastered by anything ... 'Everything is permissible' — but not everything is constructive" (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23, NIV).

Applying these biblical concepts to the philosophy of technology will yield some helpful insights. Commenting on these passages, W. Harold Mare wrote, "Every action we contemplate should be tested by two questions: 'Is it beneficial' and 'Will it overpower and enslave me and so have a detrimental effect on the church and my testimony for Christ?" (Expositor's Bible Commentary).

Antoine said...

You know something; there is a lot of truth in what you say here. And it was the kick in the butt that I needed to hear...

...else doing things like MMM would really be an ego trip more than that endeavor to explore and do things differenetly the way tech is suppose to do for us all.

Seriously, thank you. And to my friend that sent me this link I thank him as well.