I recently finished reading Craig Gay’s book, Modern Technology and the Human Future and found it to be a very balanced approach to many of the questions we find ourselves asking about the good and bad of contemporary technology. We all know how valuable our hand-held devices can be and Gay speaks highly of the gains in productivity and efficiencies afforded by such devices before citing some telling statistics. “‘On average,’ one recent study found, ‘people in the United States across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day’, roughly once every fifteen minutes. For people between the ages of eighteen to twenty four, that number goes up to seventy four times per day, or once every twelve minutes.” Many might say that we are enslaved to our phones, but if that word seems a little harsh, let’s just say we are obsessed with our phones. What are we checking for on our phones? Well it could be all kinds of good information in the virtual libraries of information available to us. We could be exploring art galleries in distant cities, getting the latest facts on nutritional information, or following NASA’s ever curious explorations of the galaxy. More likely than not, we are checking our social media accounts to see how many people have liked our recent post or seeing what posts others have made that we can like, hate, find funny, or thumb-up.
Gay is not a technophobe or luddite, his confessions in the chapter entitled “A Personal Conclusion” make this clear, but what he is saying is that we must consider every advancement in light of the good it will do and what we will give away as we embrace the technology. He points out that one of humans’ early advances was going from an oral culture to a written culture and to a culture of the printing press. Socrates expressed concerns that increasing literacy rates would have a debilitating impact on memory. Of course he was right! Oral societies must commit all important information to memory, but as soon as one adapts to a written culture, much can be stored in lists, recipes, personal journals, and text-books. However, without literacy, one could well argue that we would never have the kind of understanding of who we are and what we can do.
Gay does lament that contemporary technology tends towards seeing all of nature as a machine. Photosynthesis in the hands of a scientist can become nothing more than physics and chemistry. Similarly, the human body and mind can also be viewed as a complex machine that could, given enough time, be converted into a mechanical device to house our consciousness. He also calls us back to remembering who we are. “The church has long recognized that if the eternal Word of God ‘became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” as the apostle John declares (Jn 1:14), this confers staggering value upon ordinary fleshly existence.” “While the Christian church always stands in need of remembering its theology, the need today is particularly acute, given how rapidly automatic machine technology is trending away from ordinary embodied human life.”
In this book, Gay calls us to “repent of our hubris” and recognize that the “principle precept of Christian discipleship is that we are not our own” and that our “task, therefore, is primarily one of stewardship.” He speaks of a proper place for technology where it “starts great conversation” and an improper place when it “prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.” Proper uses of technology will lead to greater harmony of people, animals, plants, and rocks rather than dis-harmonies. Gay calls us back to our theology of being, incarnation, and eucharistic embodiment and prompts us that the eucharist or communion meal is to be a place where we reorient ourselves around what is important: God and his people embodied in flesh.
There is much more that could be said, but I leave it to the reader to take the time to purchase and read this book for yourself. It is readily available wherever books are sold.
Gay, C. M. (2018). Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.
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