Wednesday, March 05, 2014

God's engineers and toilet cleaners: thinking about technology

I've been pondering the effects of technology on life, particularly through the lens of Christian life, ahead of a seminar on the subject at a conference later in the Spring. Some early sketches.

Many Christians measure their spiritual health by their personal bible reading. Yet, for 1500 years until the invention of the printing press that wasn't really possible for the vast majority of believers. They accessed the Bible, some times in their own language, as it was taught publicly, but wouldn't have imagined personally reading its pages.

Gutenberg's printing press changed your spirituality, though it made possible Popish indulgences that so provoked Luther. Technology changes your world. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Christian conferences are also the fruit of technology that enables large residential and meeting facilities to be built and rapid transport to get people there, not to mention the technology that spreads word.Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Or think of the last century, weapons of war killed more people than any other century... and the tools of medical technology saved more lives than ever before. Some technology is only destructive, much can be used for good and bad ends. The tools of carpentry gave Jesus' adopted father his occupation, and were used in crucifixion. Roads can be an eyesore and spread pollution but Rome's roads allowed the quick spread of the good news of Jesus. The camera is the tool for capturing family memories, an artists eye and the abusive acts of the pornographer.  Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Among students we speak of a Christian approach to being an accountant or entrepreneur, engineer or educator. And people reply: what about a Christian approach to being a janitor? But the question is misplaced. We have toilets to clean because of ceramics and pipes and sewers and the great work of engineers... to create technology that has changed lives and increased health, and needs a degree of maintenance to remain good for us. There may not be a holy way to clean a toilet, except to do the work well. Technology can benefit life and create good work at all kinds of levels. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

We easily miss technology like the protestors against fracking who arrived dependent on the oil industry by car to sleep in nylon tents and sit on plastic chairs, heating clean water on their oil based stoves to drink coffee shipped on boats and planes fueled by oil...  Technology, good, bad, neutral...

Because of the physical and digital technology of the early 21st Century we find ourselves as members of the global village - interpreting our lives in light of events that would otherwise have had no bearing on us, our minds filled with things from outside our context... and now not learning things we would've previously have learned as we presume on the provision of Google for every day knowledge. In another age my wife wouldn't have a phone number and when distance separated us we'd only have been able to write by 'snail mail',... a little more recently I'd have learned her phone number from dialing it repeatedly... today it's information I can access but have never taken the time to learn. Technology, good, bad, neutral...

We're easily unaware of the technology we use, just as its not strange to hear people talk about getting away from the bustle of the city to be in creation, when you're arguably in a higher part of creation surrounded by divine image bearers in a cultivated and engineered landscape than you are alone in an place that hasn't been formed and filled by humanity.

In the early chapters of Genesis we find metal workers and musicians, technologists. Acts of being human, likely not by believers... but how much more should those who believe God seek to fulfill, in a fallen world, the mandate to have good dominion across the world, and to form and fill it, after the image of the God who shone light into darkness... into a world in which, through technology, you find yourself able to read, and access information, via an electronic device, powered by technology, with a body that has been sustained and nourished by food and water that reached you through a whole range of technology.

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