Posted November 03, 2010:
Technology and Man

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

Are you on Facebook? Got an iPhone? iPad? iPod? Does your cell phone play podcasts or film movies? Do you watch webisodes of your favorite show on your Blackberry? Got a blog? Read a blog? Do you blog on your Blackberry, while accessing Facebook on your iPhone to watch the latest YouTube craze, IM’ing the viral links to your contacts?

Twenty years ago the paragraph you just read would have been a mishmash of gobbledygook nonsense words. Viral links would have sounded like a sausage-related flu epidemic, podcasts are what you did shucking peas, and (silly!) everyone knows that it’s cranberries, not blackberries, that grow in blogs!

But I bet almost all of you are familiar with at least some of the words in that paragraph—even those of you who answered a resounding "no" to each question!

Oh, technology! How fast it moves and changes! No doubt twenty years from now a whole new vocabulary will have supplanted today’s buzz words.

Think about it, though: a hundred years ago the automobile was just starting to shape our world in radically new ways. Sixty years ago or so, that newfangled invention, television, began entering our homes, and soon IQs everywhere dropped sharply.

Thirty years ago, people started walking around with headphones on their ears all day long and watching movies whenever they felt like it on VCRs.

And it was really only twenty or so years ago that personal computers became normal household devices, at least in North America.

The pace of technological change is so dizzingly fast and the impact of technology on culture is so vast, that it is hard to fathom it.

Communication skills, reading and analytical abilities, modes of entertainment and education, social networking—the very stuff and essence of cultural life has been and continues to be radically reshaped by technological development.

What’s a Christian to do in the face(book) of all this?

As a missionary people, we have a responsibility to creatively engage the culture. As disciples of Christ, we have a duty to make sure that our own cultural formation and identity is in harmony with the path of the Gospel.

As rational creatures made in God’s image, we are always challenged to understand the truth of things and choose the good of things.

I want to reflect with you, over the next few issues of Restoration, on a Christian approach to technology. What is it doing to us, this accelerated cultural change, and what should we do about it?

I don’t have a lot of definitive answers, but I know we need to think, and think carefully, about all of this. I hope this series will help you do this.

These articles will not talk about specific uses of technology for or against truth and goodness. The internet can be used to preach the Gospel and send beauty of all kind into the world. It can also be used for pornography, bigotry, slander, and hate. These are fairly obvious good or evil uses of technology and require little discussion.

I want to reflect on technology itself—how the machines themselves and the way they work affect us. How is the very structure of our culture shaped by technology? What specific challenges does this pose to humanity in the year 2010?

Technology is neither good nor bad in itself; it just is what it is. But the very speed of technological change is negative in one sense: the urgent pace and constantly changing face of the techno-world requires us, or at least seems to require us, to constantly run to keep up with it.

We have no time to think, to consider, to review, to step back and look at the machines we use and the effects they are having on us.

It is hard for us to pause and ask the question that every free human being must be able to ask about everything, namely: do I want to do this? Is this good?

This series, in a sense, is a "pause button" allowing us to stop briefly and explore the issues at stake here.

I am not anti-technology; I’m typing this article on my laptop. I am also not pro-technology. I am, however, pro-humanity.

Technology is good if it serves humanity in the fullest sense of the word; technology is bad, or at least bad for you, if it diminishes your humanity in any way.

This is going to be the overarching theme and structure of these articles. What does it mean to be human, and what does that human reality have to do with technology?

The first point I want to make is that every human being is endowed with two powers given to us by God. These powers distinguish us, as far as we know, from the rest of material creation, and are essential to our humanity and our pursuit of our divine destiny.

These faculties are intellect and will. We are made to know the truth of things and to freely pursue the good of things. We come to know the truth of things, properly speaking, by using our heads, our minds—our intellects in the fullest sense of the word.

We choose what is good by first determining with our intellects what is good, and then willing to do whatever we need to do to attain that good.

This first expression of what it means to be human is extremely relevant in regard to the world of information technology. I truly am not pro- or anti-technology, but I do have concerns about it precisely in relation to this matter of intellect and will.

To use technology in a human way, we have to think about it and be very deliberate and careful in our choices. Will I use this or not, buy it or not? How am I to use it?

The trouble here is that so much discussion of what technology is, and how and when it is to be used, is driven—if not outright controlled—by the very people who make and sell high-tech equipment and software.

That’s a problem, isn’t it? Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the like are the ones who determine to a large extent how we talk about all this stuff.

That being the case, it turns out (surprise!) that you in fact "need" to buy an iPhone, or iPad, or Kindle! You "need" the latest Windows platform and a new laptop every two years. You "need" to have an iPod that can hold 100,000 songs. You "need" to be on Facebook.

The high-pressure, hard-sell world of technology can impinge on our intellects and will. Fear tactics and peer pressure can make us feel like we really do need to "get with the program" no matter what. Our social and economic survival depends on it!

This is hardly unique to the world of technology: peer pressure has been in existence ever since Eve handed Adam the apple. And the hard sell was no doubt used to sell time shares in the Tower of Babel.

The problem here is that information technology is indisputably shaping and re-shaping our world constantly in dramatic, drastic ways—and there’s no real discussion going on. There doesn’t seem to be any real forum for raising concerns.

The whole thing is driven by people who have economic interests in getting you to buy, buy, buy whatever the newest thing is.

The first point in the human use of technology is that we need to use it like human beings. Think. Choose. Be free.

You can say, "I don’t want to be on Facebook—it’s a stupid waste of time!" Or, equally, "I want to be on Facebook—it helps me to stay in touch with people." "I don’t want an iPod– I find I get too self-enclosed with it," or "I want an iPod, and here’s why…"

The key thing is not the actual decision you make, but that you be the one thinking it through and deciding. That you do not allow yourself to be manipulated or pressured to go along with what everyone else is doing.

Of course in the workplace things are different: we all have to work with the technology of our trade. But away from your job and its proper demands, be free and sovereign in the choices you make.

There is a very basic issue of human dignity at stake here. Don’t allow yourself to be e-bullied. Don’t be an i-patsy.

Of course, there’s more to being human than just being rational and free. After all, what is the truth of things? What is the true good for human beings? Yes, we have intellect and will, but for what? What are they supposed to be aimed towards? These are big questions that go beyond the discussion of technology.

Factually, Restoration itself exists to constantly present the deep answers to these questions. In the next articles of this series, I will discuss a few aspects essential to our humanity, aspects which are particularly being affected for good and for ill by our machines.

The bottom line is this: technology is our servant, not our master. Each one of us in our sovereign freedom must order this servant to carry out our intentions.

We must never allow our intentions to be shaped by the technology. Man is the master of the machine.


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