Nic and I have been having some good exchanges recently around issues of our relationship with technology. It’s something that’s prominent in the forthcoming book, but I wanted to introduce a few of the ideas here and hopefully provoke some debate to sharpen my own thoughts.
My view is that while we do create tools, our tools do end up recreating us aswell. The internal combustion engine was a human invention, but its invention did have a profound effect on us too.
In his book Exclusion and Embrace theologian Miroslav Volf talks about creation in Genesis as a process of ‘separation and binding’: the water and the land are separated, humanity is bound in stewardship of the earth. Nic disagrees, but I think that this is a helpful metaphor for a good relationship to technology: we are bound to it – we cannot live without it – but we are also separate from it.
Now, using the ideas covered in the series of posts on ‘Bad Faith’, we might view this from another angle: our relationship to technology should have both facticity and transcendence, and it is when this duality collapses on either side that we see problems occuring. In a recent interview an Oxford Professor of Neurology expressed real concerns about the effect increased screen-time could have on our brains. Without practice at decoding the subtle and complex messages in face-to-face communication (nuance, tone, context, pheromones, gestures) our brains will perform worse in this area – and this could be a viscious cirle as embarrassment could lead to further withdrawal.
But, in my view, there is a parallel danger. By experiencing so many more relationships through media like Facebook or Twitter we risk collapsing the complexities of ‘the other’ into pure facticity: they become seen by us as no more than the sum of their status updates, and we also risk seeing ourselves in that way too. As Pete has pointed out, we are much more mysterious than that.
The danger works the other way too. Our status updates don’t mean nothing – they do communicate something of who we are, and to ignore them and claim separation from them is to collapse into pure transcendence – we are above all that.
Neither is true. We are separate from our social networks (virtual and ‘real’) but bound to them too. The art of living in technological ‘good faith’ is going to be negotiating the line between these two states, and avoiding the temptation to collapse either side.