God and Technology and the Common Good
The High Calling has many resources about serving God with technology. The integration of faith and work is our mission, and the integration of faith and digital media is how we express our mission. We spend a lot of editorial time reflecting on digital hospitality, digital service, and digital community.
Of course, we are hardly the first to reflect on this subject. Many Christians have been thinking about technology in the past few years, often focusing on social media specifically.
Several years ago as part of the New Media Project at Christian Theological Seminary, Jason Byasse asked, “What’s our salvation in Christ mean for how we communicate in these new ways?... How can we use [social media technology] to love God and neighbor more? It can be used to augment relationship, to maintain contact over time and space—not as a substitute for face-to-face friendship, meals together, mutual prayer and worship and laughter and bodily touch, but as an extender of memory of what’s missing in those things when we are away from one another.”
Earlier this week, Duke’s Center for Faith and Leadership published a thoughtful essay about digital discipleship, considering social media technology specifically from the perspective of church leadership. Elizabeth Wellington reported on Rev. Keith Anderson’s social media philosophy that “God is everywhere… and if the church fails to embrace that, it stands to lose its future members.” Anderson’s colleage Elizabeth Drescher pushed even harder on how churches approach information technologies like Twitter. She said, “[Social media] isn’t just a tool you can use in formation, like the way we used a slideshow in the 1960s and ‘70s… The church is slowly starting to acknowledge that social media is the landscape of communication… This is the medium where spiritual growth is happening, so we have to be working in that medium.”
At the same time, we cannot expect social media technology—or any technology for that matter—to save the church. Salvation belongs to God. Somehow we must acknowledge our struggles with the medium even as we learn to use the medium for good. Perhaps we should learn to say with Christian Piatt, “I love technology. I hate technology.” Where Elizabeth Drescher sees spiritual growth, Piatt sees the human tendency to worship our own productivity. He writes, “The efficiency that a new technology affords only works as long as the majority of people you come into contact with are not yet using the same technology. Once they are, the entire conversation accelerates.”
Piatt’s lament was delivered through technology, so perhaps his frustration was ultimately about the pace of work in our driven society. Rather than flush our phones down the toilet or curse the seductive call of our tablets, we might consider whether our lives have healthy rhythms of work, rest, and play. Let’s be honest. Our problems begin inside us rather than inside our devices. We must be careful not to assign more power to our devices than they actually have. And we must be careful not to place our sins onto our devices in an attempt to make them into a scapegoat. Instead of scapegoats, God has given us grace and invited us to work with him to build his Kingdom.
These ideas are not new. They are also more practical than they sound. Two years ago after the Digital Society Conference in 2012, David Stearns and Al Erisman wrote, “Modern technologies do shape our culture, and stressed that we have the power to shape them in return… If consumers, through their economic choices and social pressure, have the ability to reshape devices so they better fit with their social values, then it is crucial for Christians to take a leadership role in that process.” In other words, we have a responsibility to reflect deeply as we purchase new devices and download the latest apps.
Even mainstream publications are beginning to consider how technology can best serve the common good. Consider two examples.
First, a recent article on Fast Company predicts “the end of online versus offline.” Futurist Glem Heimstra explains that our technology will not cause fragmentation anymore. Instead, people can expect “simply a fully integrated life.” In the same article, another futurist, Gerd Leonhard, warns that technology could end up “running our lives to a very large degree” as people give themselves over to addiction and convenience.
Second, Ashe Dryden is seeking to serve the common good in technology by critiquing prejudice and sexism in the industry. Her conclusion? “Culture is the … accumulation of effort, education, adjusting, and showing others how to be better by being better ourselves.”
Fast Company and Model View Culture are not publications that typically address issues of faith and theology, but the way they talk about technology here reminds me of the way we talk at The High Calling. We seek to help people live fully integrated lives, so that their faith informs and supports everything they do. We seek to help people become more loving by showing them stories of others who are already living out the high calling of their daily work.
Most importantly, these stories begin with our own lives. For many of us, technology is already front and center in our daily work. Unless we actively domesticate our technology—like an owner domesticates a new puppy—it may grow into something wild and threatening and dangerous. This is true for us as individuals and as a culture.
So let us not reflect passively, but let us explore courageously and joyfully. In fact, let our exploration itself be a high calling.