A fundamental assumption in the book is that we should approach technology first from the perspective of the opportunity that it offers, not the problems. Technology and all the gifts God gives us are first and foremost good things that can be used for good, and we need to see them in that light first.
We Should Have a Default Positive View of Technology
Hence, I would argue that as Christians we should have default positive view of technology rather than a default hesitant view (or, worse, default negative). Technology is an outworking of the Creation Mandate that God gave to all people (Genesis 1:28), and the narrative of Genesis shows that this is exactly how the first people understood it—namely, not as a command simply to grow food and have kids, but to build cities (Genesis 4:17), create tools (Genesis 4:22), and even create cultural pursuits such as music (Genesis 4:21).
The creation of technology, therefore, is good, and it is to be harnessed and utilized for the good of others and advance of the gospel (Ephesians 5:15-17; 1 Timothy 6:17-19). Further, by knowing how to get things done, we can both free up more time to devote to using the new opportunities opened up by technology to do good on a large scale and address large global problems, and become more effective right where we are at, in our jobs and communities and churches.
Why Do So Many People Have a Default-Hesitant View?
Instead of having a default positive view of technology, however, Christians often have a default-negative or default-hesitant view. One possible reason for this is stated well in a recent article “Don’t Fear the Digital”:
Any time a new technology comes along, an implicit cost-benefit analysis gets made. The trouble with the current debate about Generation M is that we have a phalanx of experts lined up to measure the costs but only a vague, intuitive sense of the benefits.
So the first trigger of many people is to see the costs of a new technology, as the benefits are initially less tangible and only become clear when we think beyond stage one. When we do that, we see that the benefits of technology are indeed great (which is in line with what I point out in the book about the need to recognize that some of the most productive things are actually intangibles, as opposed to things that can be precisely measured).
That article points that out well, showing that the technological generation is “not using technology to replace their real-world social life, but augment it.” We are seeing a “dramatic increase in cognitive engagement” and a “sharpening of the minds, not dumbing down.” “Today’s youth see the screen as an environment to be explored, inhabited, shared and shaped.”
Technology is Fundamentally Good
As a gift of God, technology is a fundamentally good thing. It is not a neutral thing that can be used for good or bad. It is good in itself—a good thing that, to be sure, can be misused to do harm (or just create overwhelm), but it is a fundamentally good thing in itself. When we misuse it, we are not misusing a neutral thing; we are misusing a good thing.
Technology is sort of like money. Money is not neutral; it is good—God created it. But money can be misused (significantly!) and made our ultimate priority, which is idolatry. Most Christians would acknowledge that this doesn’t make money itself bad. But most do say money is neutral. I disagree. Money, like technology, is a fundamentally good thing which is sometimes misused. I actually don’t think there is anything that is neutral. “Everything created by God is good” (1 Timothy 4:4).
In fact, Douglas Wilson made the point once on his blog that technology is simply a form of wealth. I think this is right on—it is, in a sense, money existing in the form of tools and resources. Thus, we need to look at it similarly to how we use wealth: as a tool to do good. For this is exactly how Paul tells the wealthy to view money: “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
In fact, while I do not want to tone down the biblical commands to give our money away and be generous to the poor, those passages have an application to technology as well. The application is, of course, partly that we should be willing to give away our technological tools when it will meet a real need (just as we are to give away our money, even selling our possessions, when it will meet a real need).
But the Bible doesn’t typically command all of us to give away all of our money or all of our goods. What do we do with what we keep? I would argue that the spirit of the commands to give implies that, even with what we do not give, we are to use it radically for the good of others. With technology, that means not primarily giving away your computer to someone walking by on the street, but rather using it radically and proactively to do good for others.
It means when you write emails, you should seek to be encouraging. It means that you shouldn’t simply write emails to those who are your friends (for even pagans do that—confer Matthew 5:46-47), but to those whom you don’t know very well but could use encouragement. It means when you comment on a blog, don’t be a jerk, but be upbeat, even when you disagree. And that when you are doing your online banking, you should also head over to your church website or Compassion International or some other such organization and give extra. It means seeing technology not simply as a tool to accomplishing your own purposes, but also as a tool for encouraging, building up, and meeting the needs of others.
What About the Drawbacks?
In contrast to my default positive viewpoint on technology, many Christian thinkers seem to have a default hesitant viewpoint on technology.
I use the word “viewpoint” carefully there, for many of these same Christians are hardly slow in adopting new technologies. So I don’t mean that their approach to adopting technology is hesitant. Rather, I mean that their viewpoint toward it can tend to be critical and focus much on the drawbacks it creates.
While acknowledging that there are drawbacks to everything, my viewpoint is more focused on the benefits technology brings and sees the drawbacks on a case-by-case way. Further, the drawbacks I tend to focus on concern how the technology is implemented, rather than the idea behind the technology itself.
Those who take the default hesitant approach are getting at something, though, in their tendency to zero in quickly on potential drawbacks to major technological advances. But I think what they are getting at is best handled not by viewing the technology itself in a somewhat negative or hesitant way, but rather in realizing that with every advancement, we need to create counterbalances to what was lost.
John Naisbitt captured this 30 years ago in his book Megatrends, where he wrote that “Whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response—that is, high touch—or the technology is rejected.” In other words, we need to use technology to augment real relationships, not replace them. As an augment to real personal relationships, technology is a great thing.