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    How to Evaluate Technology

    May 21, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    For all that is in the world,
    the lust of the flesh,
    and the lust of the eyes,
    and the pride of life,
    is not of the Father,
    but is of the world.

    I John 2:16

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap]n accordance with my New Year’s resolutions, I’m reading through John’s epistles using Peter Leithart’s From Behind the Veil. He had a little tangent, based upon a possible application of the verse I quoted above, concerning technology. I think you all know I have Technology Angst {just like I have all sorts of other angst}.

    How to Evaluate Technology

    When I read this, I felt like I’d found a principle I could be comfortable with:

    Information technologies might be invented by people who want to become eternal minds, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who uses these technologies has the same desires. The wealth of the wicked is stored up for the righteous; Cain built the first city, but the final order of things will also be a city, the city of God {Gen. 4:20-22}. Everything is clean for us. But if we want to understand where our culture has come from and is going, we must discern the desires that give it life.

    Equally important is the other side of this culture-desire link …. We must ask … how my desires are being shaped, distorted, or refreshed by the things I view, and use, and play with.

    [snip]

    Even cultural products that are good or innocuous in themselves can shape our desires in perverse directions. Communications technologies affect the way we experience communication and inter-personal relations, transform expectations about time, and might encourage impatience and a desire for instant results. Cars are a great blessing, but think of the way the invention of the automobile permitted us, and particularly young people, a freedom we had never had. Technologies make new things possible, but we need to ask whether all the new things made possible are things we should desire.

    He goes on, but that is enough, I am sure.

    Do you see what he has done? I John says we are not to desire the world, and we all know that culture is part of “the world” — especially our American culture, which is almost thoroughly secularized. However, we also know that we live in the world, but not in a way that we are of the world — we are not separatists.

    Leithart says that the essence of the world is summed up in the verse above, and two-thirds of that definition deals with desires. The last third addresse pride. So the spirit of the world involves lusts of the flesh and of the eyes and also pride and boasting.

    When he applies it to technology, he doesn’t ask the question Neil Postman asked: “How does this change how my mind thinks about things?” It’s a decent question, but Leithart goes one step further and asks, “How does this change my desires? Does this encourage good, God-honoring desires in me, or bad, lustful or prideful desires?”

    Not only is this a good question, but it also keeps us from being overly harsh with one another. We realize that some of us are stronger than others. Yes, all p*rn*gr*phy {sorry … trying to keep myself out of Google searches there} is evil, but are cell phones? I don’t have a cell phone because it’s expensive, unnecessary, and isn’t good for me. But I have friends that have cell phones, and they handle it just fine. They still manage to ignore their phones when it is appropriate, to be fully present when they are with other people, etc.

    Leithart looks at technology as asks, “This likely changes my heart. The question is: how? And also: is this good?”

     

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