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Technology and Education (10) – What to do in response? (Part II – Seven Applications)

This week I wrap up my series on technology with seven final applications.

1)    Knowing About Things ≠ Knowledge, Understanding, or Wisdom. In a culture that values entertainment and that has the ability to instantaneously transmit information, knowing the facts takes on new meaning, for knowing the facts does not require one to understood implications, background, or connections. In this context intelligence means knowing about lots of things, not necessarily understanding them and even less so wisely applying them to one’s own life. The greater threat, for us, than being deprived of information is that we are losing our sense of what it means to be well-informed. As I wrote earlier, ignorance is correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? The best way to counter this is to pursue fewer things more deeply. Instead of listening to two-hundred and fifty podcasts on two-hundred different topics, we can a read book on one topic (or, better yet, multiple books on one topic!) Instead of reading the news of the day, we can seek a journal article that puts an ongoing trend or event in context and charts its consequences over time.

2)    A Human Being is a Soul and Body (not a soul with a body). I am fairly interested in movies like Free Guy and, even more so, Belle in the way they depict “life” in the digital realm. Both portray digital life as something that is not only equal to life in the physical world, but as something superior—a place where a person can find love or emotional healing. I find this interesting because of what it assumes about humanity. We live in a society that is often obsessed with the body—for example, try to find an unattractive person on television or in a clothing catalogue or consider some of the laws we fixate on (c.f. “keep your laws off my body!”) While we at times give too much attention to the body and too little attention to the growth of faith and virtue in the soul, at the same time we treat the body as if it is completely irrelevant. This view is at the core of the transgender movement—that gender is something different than biological sex, that the true “you” has nothing to do with the body you happen to reside in. It is also at the center of the transhumanist movement for artificial immortality (the move to develop technology that will allow us to upload our consciousness into a computer). But all of these things—from the trans movements to seeking to immerse ourselves in the digital realm—ignore the fact that we are both a body and a soul. As such we should do things with both our bodies and souls! The application to this truth is short and obvious: Do real things with real people in the physical world! Living as if you are a soul temporarily trapped in a body is false and as a falsehood it will lead to stupid actions and heartbreak.

3)    As Parents We Can’t be Remiss in our Duty. We have responsibility and authority given to us from God; we cannot be remiss in our duty. While there is no clear law as to how and when our children should interact with modern communicative technologies, we must decide what is right and best for them.

4)    Purity. We need to be serious about purity in our homes. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” We need to be brutal against sin. ‘If your wifi causes you to sin, get rid of it.’ You can live without wifi. After a dispute with my wifi provider I lived without home internet for two full years (yes, I am that stubborn; I worked from my office and the public library). ‘If your smart phone causes you to sin, get a flip phone.’ It will be inconvenient, but we ought not for a moment to elevate our convenience or our leisure above our pursuit of holiness. (And if losing our wifi or phone seems more frightening than losing an eye or a limb, that could be a telling sign…)   

5)    Remember What Makes Life Enjoyable. Deep, open, honest relationships; meaningful work; our faith lived out; passing life and civilization on to the next generation; serving our neighbor; good meals, good laughs, beautiful sunsets, hearing the autumn wind blow the leaves or watching the snow crunch under our feet—these are things that fill our lives with joy! But the flashing pocket televisions, because they so strongly appeal to our most visceral desires (of knowing novel or new things or entertaining us) argue strongly against the value of walk in the woods or an extra hour in the office to accomplish something that truly needs to be done. Most of the pleasure that we find in movies, games, social media, chronic texting, online shopping, etc. is a shadow of a real pleasure that is found fully in God and in His creation. Remember what is edifying, what is worthwhile, what fosters love and joy, and pursue those things, not shadowy imitations of them.

6)    The Influence of an Image-Based Society is Something we Need to Take Seriously. The movement from words to images is a big deal. Kenneth Myers wrote that “A culture that is rooted more in images than in words will find it increasingly difficult to sustain any broad commitment to any truth, since truth is an abstraction requiring language.” As Christians we follow Him Who is the Truth embodied. Christianity is not an amusing, visceral faith. Sixteen hundred years ago St. Augustine wrote how the distractions of his age undermined his connection with God. “When my heart becomes the receptacle of distractions of this nature and the container for a mass of empty thoughts, then too my prayers are often interrupted and distracted; and in your sight, while I am directing the voice of my heart to your ears, frivolous thoughts somehow rush in and cut short an aspiration of the deepest importance.” The distraction he was referring to, in this case, was watching a dog chase a rabbit in the countryside. If a man as great as Augustine could have his faith distracted by something so trivial, we, in our age of distractions, should not think we are immune to them.

7)    We Must Not Treat Each New Technology as if it is Inevitable. Our belief that technological progress is inevitable and that it is therefore futile to resist any new technology has made the acceptance of new technological developments inevitable. Nearly four decades ago Postman argued that Americans were the most convinced Marxists on earth, “for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some pre-ordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.” Instead of being Marxist in our attitude towards technology, we should emulate the Amish. It is a myth that the Amish don’t use technology; they use plenty of modern technologies. But they use them intentionally in an attempt to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. Now I obviously don’t draw the line at the same place the Amish do(!), but their philosophy to technology is sound. Instead of assuming that we need to unthinkingly buy every new smart device or utilize every new faddish app, we need to be critical and wise, using only the things that we believe help us to grow in piety, to love our neighbors more completely, etc. and then to be disciplined in their use so that we don’t use them to a degree that will lead to us being remiss in our duty to love God and our fellow man.

I hope that something in this series has been edifying.