Monday, January 12, 2009

Five Things the Church Needs to Know About Technological Change

In 1998 Neil Postman delivered a lecture on his five ideas about technological change.

First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.
John Dyer--the web guy behind Best Commentaries and Dallas Theoloogical Seminary's website--runs the blog Don't Eat the Fruit, where he's recently been exploring Postman's lecture as it relates to church life and spirituality:

  1. Technology Is Always a Trade-Off ("Our challenge is to be neither all-embracing of technology nor all-rejecting, but rather to think well about how introducing a technology into personal, family, or church life will have some positives and some negatives.")
  2. Technology Creates Winners and Losers ("We ought recognize is that technology is not perfect and that for all its good, there is a cost to using it – sometimes that cost is in persons. Hopefully, by understanding these technological times we can guard against pride in our devices and skills and be more aware of those in need of the love of Christ.")
  3. Technology Contains a Powerful Idea ("The tools we use shape the way we see the world. . . . The catch is that those embedded messages are sometimes at odds with the Gospel and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.")
  4. Technology Is Ecological, Not Additive ("New technology is not merely added alongside other things, it changes the world it enters and alters the relationships that existed before.")
  5. Technology Tends To Become Mythic ("Every culture has things that started as 'new,' but over time become 'normal.'. . . It has become the default against which we judge other things. The only thing we can’t do [without appearing a complete fool] is question technology which has become mythic.")
Read the posts to see the various ways this applies within the church.

John is also giving away a copy of the book, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity from Itself.