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Bewitched by Technopoly


Author: Ben Shelton
Category: Mapping the Technological Society

Where would we be without technology?

 

I believe a better question is, “Where are we with technology?” You might find that the answer is often ambiguous. It’s hard to put in to words why you need your phone; you just know you need it. It wouldn’t make sense to be at college and not own a laptop, desktop, or tablet. You’re not sure why, but you know it to be true. However, in a poll done in chapel here at LETU more than 75% of students in chapel said they are not fulfilled or content with technology, and that they do not think it makes them a better person. So why then do we find ourselves lining up every year for the new iPhone? Upset when our device takes longer than 10 seconds to load content? Or become utterly helpless in the face of technological malfunction?


This state of mind reflects the fact that we live in a “Technopoly,” a term coined by philosopher Neil Postman to encompass the ambiguous, debilitating, and aggravating force behind human actions and reactions in relation to technology. The author of the book God and Gadgets, Brad J. Kallenberg, suggests a more insidious plot behind technology and its influence on society. Kallenberg suggests that technology isn’t just a tool, but that technology in fact makes scripts that order the way we live our lives—often without us being aware of this fact!

When I think of the effects of technology on our lives it becomes easy to jump to the Sci-Fi ideas in movies like The Matrix, Terminator, or iRobot (not the best movie in the world—but it’s Will Smith, so we all saw it). The idea of machines, technology, or robots taking over the earth and subduing humanity into slavery is not uncommon. Despite of the ubiquity of movies that wrestle with the darker side of technological progress, we are only dimly aware of the challenges technology poses for us today. By giving us scenarios of a technological apocalypse that is so far removed from our current reality, we become desensitized to just how much of our life is subject to the control of a Technopoly. This Technopoly sinisterly hides in plain sight right underneath our noses, but we can’t see it because it’s not a terrifying robot with red eyes and a mini-gun strapped to its arm.

You might be asking yourself, so what is the Technopoly? How has it affected our world today? Why should I care? Well I’m glad you asked! Technopoly is a society all about efficiency. Therefore, all technology is valued by its efficiency, and so all of life is valued by efficiency and vice versa. We can accurately describe Technopoly by the three virtues it innately possesses: Rationality, Efficiency, and Procedure. These virtues sound great in the realm of a factory or maybe a science experiment but become dangerous when deployed to govern quality of human life, relationships, and even the human soul by such virtues. Postman and Kallenberg both suggest that these virtues have been so deeply seeded in our American culture that it’s necessary to look back a hundred years and in order to see the extent of the Technopoly today.


A hundred years ago when the sun went down and night fell, human life, activity, and practice all changed pace. Work stopped and family life began. However, with the invention of the artificial lighting, things became rapidly different. Suddenly humans could work past sundown, make more money, and produce more goods. However, time for families, friends, and lovers was sacrificed, and the beginning of the American “work day” took root. Similarly, alongside the uniformity of firearms in the Revolutionary war came the uniformity of workers in factories (Kallenberg, Chapter 1). Seeing the trend? With disruptive innovation comes consequences that are either unseen or ignored.

Technopoly has given rise to major consequences worth noting in the Christian world. (Brian Kallenberg lays out all of this in his book, God and Gadgets, and I highly recommend you go read it). One consequence of Technopoly is Reductionism. Kallenberg uses what I believe to probably be the most relatable illustration to describe reductionism. Think back to Intro to Speech and Communication and remember when you had to make PowerPoint for one of your speeches, or a PowerPoint for any assignment from your courses. You’re crafting the cinematic masterpiece of the semester and you found the coolest images from google to accompany your eloquent speaking points. You’re wearing your finest shirt and pants for your presentation and BOOM—your picture of a sick mountain landscape with a beautiful blue river is like 6 green and blue squares on the screen. Your image resolution was not fit to the screen.

Kallenberg says this is what Technopoly has done to the Christian worldview. God, the Bible, the church has been reduced into well packaged analogies, catch phrases, bumper stickers, or metaphors. Think of sayings like “the bible is like a road map to life.” A map in our world is like google maps. Google maps shows you your location, the destination, different possible routes to take, any hindrances in your travel, and even places to stop along the way. The Bible is not the google map of life, and it isn’t intended to be! The Bible is low tech, like a map for orienteering, which shows you landmarks in a certain order in order to guide you to an end destination. This style of map forces the traveler to be skilled in reading terrain, adjusting to circumstances, and interpreting information given by landmarks. You can see how the simple idea of our understanding of maps and the technology behind it has an influence on the way we think about our faith.

Caution yourselves, my brothers and sisters! Be aware of the amount of technology in your life, the way you use it, and the way it may be using you!

STAY WOKE

Benjamin Shelton is a Junior Christian Ministry major at Letourneau university. Benjamin grew up in California but now calls East Texas home. You can find Benjamin at a local coffee shop with friends or alone. Either way Benjamin’s usually procrastinating homework and welcomes anyone who can assist him in doing so.