Our interaction with technologies does have an effect on our personhood. While we may not be gadgets, our tool-use is actually an important part of our personhood. It is one of the things that makes us human.
The danger that Jaron Lanier identifies in his book is actually one of lock-in: because we are tool-users, any tool manufacturer who writes the code that becomes dominant (iTunes / iPod / HTML / MIDI) is going to exert excessive leverage on us as people, and potentially restrict the human part of tool use: being creative. If Apple make a piano that only plays half the octave, that changes the sort of music we produce.
The future of religion will be determined by the quirks of the software that gets locked in during the coming decades, just like the futures of musical notes and personhood.
I think this is really interesting, but Lanier doesn’t actually mine the point he’s beginning. Religion – the bindings that we commit to – is an example of lock-in too. It is a codification of life, a set of boundaries, and as such it must, like all technologies, continue to submit to examination: is this increasing our humanity, our potential as created/creative people?
Take preaching as an example. I’ve heard plenty of people preach about preaching, expound theologically on why preaching is the right thing to do. For me, it’s lock in. It’s a set of railway tracks that most churches simply don’t know how to get away from. One of the things that I remember being told repeatedly in classes for my engineering degree was this:
If the people who built the railroads in the US were really interested in transporting people, they’d now own the airlines. But they don’t.
Why not? Because they got locked in. It became about the vehicle, not the journey. The future of the church, and of religion in general, will be dependent on those who are prepared to see the lock ins, and break out of them. Why? Because that’s where humanity lies: beyond the ripped curtain, past the stone door, outside the Temple courts and into the margins.