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Today is Thursday, November 14, 2019

Technopolies, Theologies, and Threads

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In 1992, Neil Postman wrote a book describing a society in which technology is deified. What may have seemed at least a tad farfetched then does not seem so now. Postman considered "technopoly" to be the most recent of three kinds of cultures in which new technologies "compete with old ones ... mostly for dominance of their worldviews." Drawing from Francis Bacon in the early 17th century, Postman described technopoly as a "totalitarian technocracy" which insists upon the "submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology."
Just yesterday, Google employees circulated an internal "dark arts" memo criticizing the company's change to their employee calendaring system. It may seem like an insignificant matter to us until we discover the nature of the employees' concerns: by monitoring who assembles in what room, Google may be amassing the ability to squash all dissent. Some employees fear that the company will stifle their efforts to organize. Perhaps on a more serious note, some fear that Google may be coming up with a way to prevent challenges to anything which an underling might question, like the company's payouts to executives accused of sexual misconduct.
Do you remember the story about the boy who found a magic spool of thread? Pulling the thread made every day feel exciting for Peter, but - when he became an old man, and there was no more thread on the spool - he realized that his life had been lived without meaning. Peter had managed to avoid some pain and suffering by the distractions of thread-pulling, but a life of incessant distraction meant that he never experienced the wonder of living. A more important Peter said that you and I have a "living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ!" I suppose that our challenge today is not to trade that awesome promise of abundant life for a thread-pulling life mostly wasted while we stare mindlessly at our tablets.
And, friends - on a much larger scale - what do we risk losing in the public square? If we keep surrendering all our time and attention to the technopolies, will we and our children not pay a steep price for our abandonment and neglect? I think it's high time that the body of Christ wakes up from our far-too-long nap, and that we light up our sphere of influence with something of eternal value! Google, Amazon, and Facebook may dominate the internet, but they don't define the meaning of life. Big Tech ain't got nothin' on our Big God!
One of my jobs each week is to give you a few things to think about. I'm not an expert on anything, but I'm interested in lots of things, so here goes ...
  • Though it puts a lot more information at our fingertips, literally, ever-expanding technology actually threatens knowledge. We must never forget that the tech giants manipulate us every day with their algorithms. My term is TechnoGod. (Spellcheck doesn't like it, but I'm keeping it.) Don't let all your choices, and especially your search for truth, be automated by Silicon Valley.
  • Don't become a cult-like follower of social media, and never allow Instagram to define your value or priorities. In many, many ways, the depictions there don't represent real life. Always keep that in mind as you scroll. Beware of boredom. Then, turn off your phone and look up: Christ is always more beautiful!
  • Don't let our Western uber-connectivity fool you: it's not all about making our lives easier. Every time we log on, we're becoming part of an advancing and coherent vision of human existence. I know that you have to log on, and so do I, but I want us to log on discerningly.
  • Big Tech has its own system of morality. Google tried to form an ethics board for purposes of rightly managing artificial intelligence, but then came under fire because one of the board members held a Christian sexual ethic and didn't affirm climate change and another board member was too closely linked to the U.S. military. So it was disbanded. The only reason I mention it is to remind you that ethics and morality - without an objective standard - will be about as successful as nailing Jell-O to the wall.
  • Big Tech will never be committed to human dignity the way we must be. People are not machines. You and I, as the Lord's redeemed, are believers in the Imago Dei - and so we must never lose sight of the fact that every person is created in God's image! The same social media which can launch an unknown person into overnight stardom can destroy that person in a nanosecond. It happens every day. Don't forget that. Stay out of Twitter wars which can harm people - that's never our job. Humanity, not technology, is the crown jewel of Creation.
  • While we're trying to do church as usual, even the definition of what it means to be human is up for grabs. Because the world of technology is changing so quickly around us, what we once would have considered an unacceptable loss of personal privacy we now simply assume. (What have you allowed your phone to do today?) Our digital avatars now interact with other digital avatars more than we interact with other people. We're saving our memories to a hard drive every time we snap or save a pic.
  • Don't trade your one life for an empty spool of thread.
  • I love what Elliot Clark says in his new book, Evangelism as Exiles: "If you wanted to take America back for God, how would you do that? Generally, we think in terms of acquiring greater social and cultural power and influence; that's the way we will ultimately bring this country into line. We've got to throw that away. We need to recognize that we have a gospel that doesn't require us having a position and a status for it to be powerful ... Let's take America back for God - as in the sense of let's preach the gospel, and let's see lives change."

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