Not a new playlist on Spotify
No, techno-anxiety isn’t a new dub-step playlist on Spotify. It is what I’ve felt for a long time as I’ve considered the effect of a digital economy on biblical anthropology. Herman Bavinck famously challenged the prevailing narrative of societal progress. Time does not necessarily scale with increased societal wealth and health. Is today better than yesterday, better than last month, last year, last decade? It is conceivably possible that we could take a wrong turn as a culture and not realize it until we’re in west Albuquerque without a clear GPS signal. This is how I feel about our culture’s use of digital technology.
At the same time, and discernably so, the advancement of technology has brought distinctive advances in the human capacity to subdue the earth and relieve suffering. Or, to reduce this to the mundane, self-serving, and personal—I can Facetime with my kids when they are away at college. So, how can technology be so bad?
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I’ve been reading the works of two authors on this topic: Jacques Ellul and Ivan Illich.
Jacques is dystopian, though he’d probably want me to edit that descriptor to read: realist. He proposes that technological progress will continue under the metrics of scientific investigation and under the power of a totalitarian-trending government toward ultimate and inevitable, maximum efficiency. In more modern parlance, we’d say that Google and Apple are competing to rule the world, and any self-respecting government will let them, as long as they get paid.
Ivan is a little more optimistic. He said that there is always the interplay of two moments in the advancement of any tool (hammer, iPhone, or compulsory public education): benefit and iatrogenic. The moment of benefit is when devices are leveraged for the common good in an obvious and ubiquitous way (basic tools, the telephone, roadways). Iatrogenic effects occur when the tool, while used with good intent, actually begins to induce harm (modern medicine, screen time, alcoholism) that subsequently more tools are needed to alleviate. Could we arrest or pull back from iatrogenic effects once they are realized? That is the question that Ivan asked. And the question we may need to start asking again.
Rubber, Road, and Amish
When the rubber hits the road, I’m not suggesting we all become Amish. How we use tools, especially digital tools and digital media, is a topic that is live, young, and important. We haven’t had enough time to figure it all out. But we also have three things near the floorboard: a foot, a gas pedal, and a brake. We can make decisions to speed up or slow down. This returns me to the title of this brief post and its inclusion of the word anxiety. For as long as we are anxious, we need to be circumspect. If you worry about the time you or your children spend looking at a screen, you need to step into that tension and ask critical questions. The answer can’t be ham-fisted—The Amish Option or Elon’s-Nuerolink. We need to wade in, ask good questions, apply biblical teaching, and figure it out as we go.
My Work at Grimké
We just concluded our first intensive of the spring semester, which marks our progress into a regular rhythm of graduates. Unlike some spring-only graduate programs, we have a rolling admission system at Grimké that allows students to enter graduate-level theological studies in the spring or the fall. That also means that we graduate students in both the spring and the fall. So, from here on forward, every semester will include both a welcome to new students at the first intensive and a send-off for graduates at the second intensive.
The editorial and design team also launched a new online theological journal: Sola Ecclesia. I’m looking forward to providing managing oversight over the development of that journal.
My Work Coaching
I continue to enjoy coaching high- and growing-capacity leaders. I’m now also reaching the point in the growth of my coaching practice where some clients are concluding their coaching series and new clients are going through onboarding. If you or someone you know needs help with a leadership challenge or goal, let me know.
Thinking is not writing; even more important, writing is not thinking. —Francis-Noël Thomas
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