Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Humans have less soul now than they did 30 years ago. Everywhere you look, people are wired in to their devices like little appendages, and it won’t be too long before we’re asking which one is the appendage: is it a person attached to machines, or machines attached to a person? Who, in other words, is the host? Man and machine are merging at an alarming, exponential rate (Ray Kurzweil was right about that… God help us if he’s right about everything else, too), and this has serious theological implications.
I think what finally lies beneath my concern about technology gone rampant is this: that there is a direct relationship between technology and atheism. Stay with me. Technology disembodies us, and the more disembodied we become, the less ourselves we become, and the less ourselves we become, the more distant God becomes. Of course there is an inevitability to technology, and much of it is good. I need only say the word “penicillin” and you get my point. And let’s not forget: the book was once cutting edge technology.
So it isn’t that I’m against technology per se, but only its irresponsible use and development. But surely there is a tipping point… the whole “we were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for us” kind of tipping point. At what point, in other words, do machines no longer serve our needs and instead, we begin to alter ourselves to serve theirs?
It brings a whole new irony to the old MacIntosh computer commercials about the Orwellian future of technological conformity. What the folks at Apple didn’t stop to consider was how they might become the agents of conformity their commercials were warning us against; that they may very well become the Big-Brother-is-Watching technocrats of the future. And of course, isn’t it another crowning irony that Apple’s very name, and indeed its iconic symbol, is the half eaten fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden?
I’ve written about such things before, but feel compelled to throw it out there again for consideration, because every time I read about the steady and unrelenting encroachment of technology into our lives, into our very psyches (and souls?), it gives me a serious case of existential indigestion. In TIME magazine this week, there were back-to-back articles about the changing face of… well, of just about damn near everything as a result of technology. For your consideration:
“Chase alone moves $3 billion a year on mobiles with an app that allows you to deposit to checking via a cell-phone photograph or pay friends for your share of the moo-shu pork by phone transfer. PNC Bank’s app allows you to move money from one account to another by sliding your finger along a bar [on your phone’s screen].” ~ from the article “The End of Cash” in TIME, Jan. 9, 2012
“But the most interesting thing about the Xbox as a TV device isn’t the wealth of stuff to watch. It’s the pairing of Microsoft’s search engine and spoken commands, like ‘Xbox Bing Breaking Bad‘ to help you hunt down a particular show.” ~ from the article “Control Freaks”
We have become such a technology-obsessed culture that we no longer realize how much it has become an intimate part not only or our lives, but of our individual and collective identities (and I write this in full view of the irony that I’m posting this on a blog on the Internet, but again, I didn’t say that all technology is bad). We’re increasingly blurring the distinction between ourselves and our technological devices.
And for what reason, and to what end? Convenience. Power. Control. What is it with our obsession with convenience anyway, as if convenience was always and everywhere a better thing (Wall-E anyone?)? I don’t want a convenient marriage any more than I want a convenient adventure, or a convenient friendship, or convenient child. And I certainly don’t need an even easier way to spend my money. Indeed, hasn’t that been precisely the problem with American’s spiraling debt ~ both as individuals and as a nation? We spend money we don’t have because, in a strange technological sleight of hand, it’s *there* for us to spend. So much for the virtues of convenience.
I was in a department meeting the other day and a group of us was sitting around comparing notes about how we teach our classes, and one of my colleagues extolled the virtues of Facebook as a useful tool for promoting discussion among his students. At first, I had to admit he had a point. He’d made a page on Facebook for his class and his students were posting left and right about the class readings, and doing so without any prompting from him. It was a professor’s dream come true. What teacher on the planet wouldn’t want something like that to happen with their classes?
But then, on my bike ride back home (props to Bianchi and Campagnolo), I got to thinking about the merits of the Facebook page, and by the time I’d reached Pasadena, I’d arrived at a different conclusion. Among my colleagues I’m known for being a Luddite when it comes to technology for pedagogical purposes. I despise Power Point and never use videos in class (well, almost never). In fact, I tell my students that for 90 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, they’ll be off the grid, and it’ll be good for them. As a result, though the complaints boil to the surface the first couple of weeks, by week three and beyond the one comment I consistently get from my students is how much conversation the class engenders outside the classroom in dorm rooms and at meals, on shuttle rides home and in impromptu hall gatherings ~ even with family members over break. In other words, because I don’t use technology, nor encourage its use, my students end up having face-to-face discussions, not disembodied posts, about the class content. Granted, disembodied posts are probably better than no discussion at all, but aren’t face-face discussions over coffee and Jolt better than disembodied posts? I’m apparently old-fashioned enough, at 46, to think so.
The unassailable fact is, Facebook is too invasive and makes all of us too accessible. It becomes too easy to get in touch (okay for revolutions, I suppose, but not so good for friendships, which have always and will always require a little restraint, not to mention privacy). We not only post our ideas, but we advertise ourselves as we slowly morph from Person to Product, limning all the while C.S. Lewis’s prescient warning that we should be careful who we pretend to be lest we become it. And when will it end, this rush towards technological nirvana? When we’re all comfortably wired into some computer chip via a cranial implant? Because at that point, folks, it’ll be a bit late.
But seriously, when will we wake up to this slow euthanization of humanity? Because that’s more and more what this obsession with technology is beginning to feel like. We unquestioningly salivate over the newest gadget, which creates a dependance that, in turn, creates alternate needs which themselves create a greater dependance, and so on and so forth.
Is anyone with me on this? Am I the only one that misses the time when things moved a little more slowly? When writing a letter was a discipline, and walking to a friend’s house was routine? I miss some of the little hardships, some of the little inconveniences of life in the 20th century (that oh-so-distant time in the past). Sometimes, when I read articles like those in TIME, I fall into an apocalyptical mood and get my 2012 Mayan calendar game face on and begin to actually wish for the end of civilization. . . . okay, so that’s a bit extreme, but I think I’d rather have it snuffed out than die a long, slow, painful, and tawdry death. (I can see it now: the last sign of human life is a tweet.) Perhaps an asteroid landing on the planet and snuffing out all means of radio frequency technology wouldn’t be a bad alternative. The entire world goes off the grid. Granted, we couldn’t tweet about it, and there would be no app for it, and we’d all still be stuck with each other. But at least in the short term it would simply mean that we’d actually have to go outside and commiserate with our neighbors, or maybe walk to the grocery store, or sit around and talk to our children. Or spend time collectively contemplating our lot in life, our place in history, our epic hubris, and what we’re all going to do with our time now that our foreseeable evenings will not be spent watching TV or stuck behind our computer monitors tapping our little keyboards. No more news cycles. No more Facebook updates. No more tweets. No more IMs or text messages. No more junk mail. Just silence. And time. So much time.
Am I the only one, or is there something downright charming about that?