Article

The tension of technology: Hope and fear in the digital age

Nov 29, 2018

October 4, 1957, may not seem like an important date, but it was a major turning point for the history of technology. Newspapers across the country ran headlines about an “artificial moon” traveling in space at over 18,000 mph. It was launched by the Soviet Union as the first man-made object to ever leave earth’s atmosphere. The successful launch of Sputnik was a surprise, especially to the Americans. This feat didn’t seem possible because of the state of rocket technology.

As news spread about the satellite’s launch, the public’s reaction was a mix of panic and awe as they questioned its purpose. Many probably listened to the satellite’s steady beep on their household radios in a state of amazement and wonder, excited for the future. Others, however, were likely filled with a deep and paralyzing fear of the unknown as they tuned in. They had no context for what would come next. War? Weakness? Instability?

The launch of Sputnik also brought about a renewed commitment by the United States to regain its technological advantage. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy famously proclaimed that the U.S. would put a man on the moon within the decade. That proclamation was fulfilled and helped usher in countless other technological advances outside of the space industry that we still benefit from today.

The truth behind the technology

Most people, when thinking about technology, conjure up the idea of a smartphone, the internet, self-driving cars, or maybe even popular types of artificial intelligence such as Apple’s Siri or Google Home. But one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding technology is that it always has to do with the newest or latest gadget.

We tend to miss the fact that every generation of humanity has used technology in various ways for the benefit of society. From the advent of the wheel to the invention of paper, humans have always used technology to aid us in our work and lives. We are creatures fascinated by the new, and older technologies often become so integrated into our lives that we forget about them entirely.

Simply put, technology is a tool that God has soley allowed human beings to create. God created each of us in his image (Gen. 1:26-27), distinct from the rest of creation with a rational mind and specific jobs to do for our good and his glory. Adam and Eve were given the first jobs—“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (1:28). They were also put in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15).

Technology is a part of this calling because it allows us to do our work more efficiently. Its purpose is to help society by allowing us to work out our callings in ways that reflect the creative nature of God. The ability to dream up and make new things like technology is a way in which we display his glory.

Yet, we know that this world is marred by sin. Technology is often misused and abused, resulting in more pain and suffering. Cain and Abel are an example of this. Cain killed Abel in the field, presumably using some sort of tool that helped him work the ground. Likewise, the tools we make can be used in ways that don’t honor God or people. Our rebellion has led to a breakdown of the fundamental purpose of technology.

All is not lost, though. The earth is being renewed, and technology is one way that we can fight back against the brokenness of this world. So, we must keep in mind that technology, itself, isn’t good or evil. Instead, we must choose if we are going to use it wickedly or redemptively.

Hope, apathy, and fear as we think about technology

We often have a mix of three emotions when it comes to technology. We see its benefits, which fill us with hope for the future and encourages dreams of the good it can do. Conversely, we see the possible dangers, misuses, or pitfalls of a given piece of technology, which fill us with a great fear of the unknown. So, we choose to withdraw from it or outright reject an innovation as threatening. But more often than not, we simply don’t think about the technology around us and grow increasingly apathetic to its affect on our daily lives.

As a cutting-edge form of technology, artificial intelligence is a field that often evokes these emotions. It’s such a new, mysterious development that many are confounded by it or choose to ignore its implications on our society. And the mix of feelings is justified.

Its benefits are many. Through the use of AI, we have seen numerous fields transformed, such as healthcare, economics, transportation, manufacturing, education, and even security. For example, AI-empowered security systems are able to use video-image recognition to tell the difference between a potential threat at your home or office and a friend coming by to visit, all using algorithms that can decipher between faces. The system then alerts the user to anything it deems hostile.

Yet, there are dangers to this technology, as well. How might this type of AI recognition be used in malicious ways? It is already being debated for use in autonomous drone strikes, where the AI compiles a list of enemy targets that the drones then attack.

Or, think about the overlooked downfalls of something as seemingly harmless as a navigation app like Waze. My family uses Waze nearly every day to get to our destinations by the “quickest” way possible. While we often bypass traffic or find out about delays as they happen, many users have become so dependent on this technology that they are unable to find their own way home. Moreover, when is the last time we thought about how Waze calculates the fastest way to our destinations or how it might be using the data it collects from each drive? We already know the data is used to help develop personalized ads to display along our drives, but that data can also be used in a variety of ways not yet known to us.

Moving forward, thinking critically

So, with this reality in front of us, how are we to think about technology in a world that saturates us with it?

First, we need to remember the purpose for technology and the dangers in its use. As Christians, we must think about technology through the lens of wisdom. We should embrace its benefits, yet not blindly accept every new innovation. And we should be mindful of its dangers, but not outrightly reject the good gifts of God. The tools that the Lord gave us the ability to design are for us to use wisely to aid our work and lives, not to control us or to be used in unethical ways that harm others. We should seek to use them in healthy, God-honoring ways.

As a fallen people, we are often oblivious to how we embrace technology, falling prey to overuse and excessive dependence on it. We might not even recognize our addiction, but it’s pervasive. One way to combat this enslavement to technology and to think clearly about its effects on our lives is to take various breaks from its grip. It would be good for our minds and hearts to perform tasks manually from time to time. We can do this by evaluating what we choose to automate in our lives and asking key questions. Does a particular app or device aid or distract us from our callings? Are there hidden dangers that might warrant us changing how we use the technology?

Second, we need to connect with others. As we seek to disconnect from technology, we need to talk to friends about the potential blind spots we have in its use. We should also evaluate any ways that we are rejecting it because of fear. An honest dialogue will help us identify how we are misusing these tools. It will also help us identify underlying dangers and navigate how we will implement future progress in our lives and workplaces.

If we are uncertain about a piece of technology, we can ask trusted friends, or even pick up a book or read an article, to help guide us through it. They might help us make the decision to turn off the navigation app for once and find our own way home. Or, more importantly, maybe they will give us the extra push we need to put down our phones for a night and have real conversations with those around us.

Lastly, we need to be reminded about the foundational truths of our faith. Our God is not intimidated by our technological advances. He reigns sovereign over our past, present, and future. Nothing catches him off guard or will replace him as our greatest good. Technology is an instrument that he has given us to fulfill the greatest commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).

So as we move forward in an increasingly complex and advanced society, we need to remember that all of technology, from “artificial moons” to artificial intelligence, is to be used for the glory of God and the good of others. We must be those who engage it with intentionality, using the wisdom that our God gives freely to partner in his redemptive work.  

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Jason Thacker

Jason serves as the Creative Director and an Associate Research Fellow. In his role as Creative Director, he oversees all creative projects including design, video, web, audio, and print media. He writes and speaks on topics including human dignity, technology, and artificial... Read More