One evening a couple of weeks ago, I headed into London to attend Kingdom Code, a meet-up for Christians in digital. I’d been aware of the group mainly via Twitter, and one of my colleagues from Scripture Union on the Guardians of Ancora project team suggested I go along. I’m glad I did, because it was a really interesting evening discussing how our values shape tech and tech shapes our values.
You can listen to the audio of Andy’s introduction on the Kingdom Code blog – what follows are my notes from and reflections on the evening.
Heading up the discussion was Andy Geers (pictured), developer of the PrayerMate app, which is an excellent little app to help you pray for the people and situations you mean to but so easily forget about – it was one of my top 10 apps for Christians.
Andy was upfront in saying that the ideas he was presenting weren’t original, but summarised themes drawn from a variety of authors. He specifically recommended the following:
- The Next Story by Tim Challies
- From the Garden to the City by John Dyer
- Virtually Human by Ed Brooks & Pete Nicholas
- Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman1
- What’s Best Next by Matt Perman
Andy started off by defining “technology” as “Things we make to enable us to do things we otherwise couldn’t”, and reminded us of Douglas Adams’ clever description of our attitudes to technologies:
- Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
- Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
- Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Another attitude that’s common in our culture, especially among those of us who are enthusiastic about tech, is to see it as the solution to all the world’s problems.2 On the other hand, there are those who blame technology for many of our ills – is Google making us stupid? Are smartphones rotting our brains?
But what does the Bible have to say about the problem and the solution?
Technology is neither saviour nor devil. The real problem is in the human heart, in our broken relationship with God. Technology can’t fix human nature, and it’s dangerous to try. The solution is a redeemer, Jesus Christ, who can forgive us and change our hearts.
We are made in the image of God, and make things to live out our call to rule the earth. God often uses technology! He gave detailed instructions to Noah on how to build the ark – quite the feat of engineering. Even the Cross was a piece of technology, the electric chair of its time designed to execute criminals painfully, and God used that in sacrificing himself on it in Jesus. Technology has real value in bringing order to the world, taking care of creation and our fellow human beings.
But we live in a fallen world under the curse. Our technology is affected by that. Because of the corruption in human nature, we use technology for selfish ends, for power and domination.3
Does this mean technology is morally neutral? This is probably the default assumption many of us hold – it’s not the technology, it’s how you use it. But this is too simplistic. Tools have embedded values and assumptions, tells a certain story. Technology frames the way we view the world.4
For example, think of how the subtle difference between Facebook’s status update prompt “What’s on your mind?” and Twitter’s “What’s happening?” lead you towards a certain use of those social media platforms. Or at another level, the difference in culture between a chronological feed of 140 character messages versus an algorithmically sorted feed of messages of varying formats and lengths. You can choose to use those platforms “against the grain”, e.g. by using numbered tweets or “TwitLonger” embeds to post longer messages, but different platforms have different strengths and weaknesses based on the choices made by their creators.
We then broke off into smaller groups to discuss the values embedded in different tech – from deeply embedded technology, such as electric lighting and online shopping, to emerging tech such as virtual reality and self-driving cars.
Andy quoted 4 questions from Tim Challies to ask of technology:
1. Why were you created?
2. What is the problem to which you are the solution, and whose problem is it?
3. What new problems will you bring?
4. What are you doing to my heart?
It was a really interesting discussion and raised lots of interesting points, such as how artificial lighting is something we take for granted but enables a 24/7 society, and how online shopping tries to solve the “problem” of being able to buy anything, any time, giving us that god-like ability to make stuff appear at the click of a button.
The challenge for Christians in technology is to think how we can design tech in a way that “loves our neighbour”, that facilitates healthy human relationships and community. One of the challenges Scripture Union face with Guardians of Ancora, for example, is how to make a game that is engaging and compelling for kids, but doesn’t encourage an unhealthy addiction to the screen. It’s important to keep these bigger questions of culture and values at the forefront of our minds.
It was a great evening, and if you’re interested in the intersection of technology and faith, I thoroughly recommend getting along to Kingdom Code – find out more at http://www.kingdomcode.uk/
- Postman’s follow-up book Technopoly focuses even more on the role of technology in our culture today. ↩
- I recently read a book To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Morozov, which pokes holes in lots of examples of solutionism and “Internet-centrism”, which is quite entertaining though rather scattershot in the quality of its analysis. ↩
- I’m reminded of what C S Lewis said in The Abolition of Man, “What we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.” ↩
- Another aspect Andy didn’t go into particularly is how our technology shapes us – if you used an axe, you develop certain muscles. If you read a book or spend your day on Twitter, your brain will be shaped in different ways. Often by automating something with technology, we lose the skill to do it manually ourselves. ↩