10 Questions We Should Ask About Technology (Pt. 1)

by Jeff Haanen

Yellow light.

It’s a faithful way to start thinking about technology.  Whereas a green light would tell us to “go” and adopt any and every new tool and device the market offers, and a red light would mean rejecting new technologies outright as evil or at least corrupting to the way “things should be,” a yellow light tells us to slow down, pause and reflect. Though stoplight metaphors surely breakdown, we needed spaces in contemporary life to think about how we shape our technology, and how it shapes us.

We’ll have just that chance to pause and reflect on October 17 at the Faith and Technology Forum in Boulder, where we’ll hear from John Dyer, author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology, and a panel discussing the role of technology in out communities and our work. (The $10 ticket comes with a free book and food/beverages for the evening. You can register here.)

But until then, here are 10 questions (inspired by John Dyer’s book) we should ask about technology:

10.      What are the stories we tell about technology? Some stories inspire a sense of wonder at what we’ll be able to do with a new technology. The new sports car will dazzle and the smart house will bring comfort and ease. Technology is a bridge to an imagined world of peace, comfort, or restoration. What a happy ending we shall have if we have this technology. Other stories paint a disturbing picture of how technology uses us. Nicolas Carr, in The Shallows, notes how the internet is actually altering our brains – and not for higher critical thinking. But perhaps the most important story we tell about technology answers the question, Where are we going? It’s hard to talk about technology and not tell a story of progress, of our shared future – does technology also come with its own narrative of redemption?

 9.     What is technology? Alan Kay, the man who invented the idea of computer windows, famously said technology is anything that was invented after you were born. Are you in your 50s? The internet is technology. In your 20s? The internet is where you go to buy technology. The point is this: have we confined discussions about technology to digital gadgets like iPhones, mobile apps, and all things electronic, and not included those who work with the “technology” of microwaves, smoothie machines, or artificial organs? How would you define technology?

 8.      What does God think about technology? Well, this depends on how you define technology. But if you land somewhere in the land of “the tools we use”, then perhaps God has more to say than we think. The questions abound: what “tools” were used in the Garden of Eden? How were they used? How about after the fall? How did Israel use its tools? The early church? Is there a role for man-made technology in the Heavenly city? Perhaps here’s the better question: what does God think about the technology you create or use at work every day?

 7.     How do the mediums of digital communication affect our messages? Marshall McLuhan famously wrote “The medium is the message.” But what does this mean in practice? What is the difference between a text message and a tweet? A phone call and a hand written letter? A facebook post or a face-to-face conversation? Is one better than another? Does one communicate a particular (even if subconscious) message? Or perhaps more importantly – does your chosen form of communication shape your very mind without you knowing it?

 6.     How does digital technology influence human relationships? Some would say it’s acidic. “My teenager loves her iPhone more than her family.” Others would say it’s a god-send. “I can now contact my nursing-home bound mother any time of the day. I don’t know what I’d do without the emergency alert system.” Distraction or connection? Deeper isolation or deeper engagement? Or both? Can digital media be used to bond us closer together in genuine community? If so, what would this look like?

This post is continued here: 10 Questions We Should Ask About Technology (Pt. 2).

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Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is the Founder & CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. Jeff lives with his wife and four daughters in Littleton, Colorado, and attends Wellspring Church.