This is part one in a two-part series on technology and the future of work.
I’m a third generation electrical engineer. I’ve always loved being around technology.
As a kid I played with future space station action figures, built a Saturn V rocket model and was enchanted by seeing Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface from my parents family room black and white TV.
It’s no wonder I took up amateur astronomy later in life as my first “adult” hobby.
Seeing the amazing improvements and advances in science and technology over my lifetime alone stretches our imaginations.
Story and film continues to impress just about everyone with the possibilities and wonder of what might be ahead.
Many years ago, and with the help of advanced medical care, my father completely beat non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma through successful and non-disruptive treatments that barely slowed him down. A decade or so before that this same illness would have been considered life threatening.
Most of our associations with technological advances are accepted as generally positive and hopeful. But with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), there are growing concerns over whether certain potential dangers to society may outweigh the benefits.
We live with technological tension trading the everyday benefits against issues such as the effects of “too much screen time” and worries over job security through emerging disruptive changes.
Dystopic fears are also fostered by cinematic portrayals of a dark, exploited, and oppressed future world. Historically we all can think of the massive destructive nature technology brought to 20th century modern warfare or unsafe nuclear power generation such as was experienced in Chernobyl’s meltdown or the post-tsunami Fukushima power plant disaster.
And closer to home, we all struggle with what negative affects the personal devices in our pockets or purses are habituating in the way with think, interact with each other, and prioritize our lives.
Non-Neutrality of Technology
First it is important to acknowledge the false premise that technology itself is amoral or neutral and it is only what we do with it that makes it good or bad. Derek Schuurman in Shaping a Digital World: Faith, Culture and Computer Technology, cites Neil Postman with a very helpful explanation:
“…technological objects are biased toward certain uses, which in turn bias the user in particular ways. Cultural Critic Neil Postman explains the non-neutrality of technology as follows: “Embedded in every tool is an ideological bias, a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another… New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop.”
So we are right to question the direction and level of appropriate engagement with any new technology and regularly ask ourselves, “To what end is the perceived benefit leading me, and at what cost am I going to devote time and resources to incorporate this into my life?”
Thoughtless consumerism and social media addiction are both epidemic in our society and necessitate Christians cultivate disciplines of health and wholeness in our affections and habits toward new products and the advances they offer.
We want our productive energies channelled into work that expresses God’s character (image-bearing), love for our neighbor, and avoids our becoming slaves to the stuff of creation (idolatry). (Gen. 1:26-27, Ps. 115:4-8).
Our work in developing these technologies must likewise consider to what degree are they promoting wholeness and flourishing as the products being marketed certainly are shaping influences and never simply neutral factors in our personal and cultural formation.
Steve Lindsey is the Executive Director of the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. As an engineer at Boeing for nearly 40 years, he often labored to see how his work served God’s greater purpose for the world. He and his wife Margaret established the CFWLA in 2017 to help people reframe vocation and understand how all work, no matter the industry, has meaning and purpose.