Mystie is hosting this book club, which I'm planning on participating in. I read the book when Cindy hosted the discussion in 2007, but I wasn't able to comment on each chapter. This time around I'm mainly planning on dusting off my old posts (which aren't on this site yet -- I was blogging elsewhere then and that site died, sadly), but hopefully I'll be able to reread the book and have more to say this time.
That said, I hadn't planned on doing the introductory chapter, but the discussion at Mystie's blog spurred me to write a long enough response that I figured I may as well post it here. The subject of technology came up and whether it's good, bad, or neutral.
(For a summary of this chapter, be sure to visit Mystie's blog.)
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I’ve been thinking all week, trying to figure out how to word this and I haven’t come up with anything satisfactory, but here goes anyway.
It seems to me that “things” (specifically technology, since that’s the topic) by their nature encourage certain uses and choices and discourage others, so that they aren’t exactly completely neutral objects. I’m not going so far as to say that they are actors, but I also can’t say that they are completely... neutral or passive in the way they are used.
We conservatives are fond of saying things like “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” which is true as far as it goes, but the fact is that guns are designed to blow holes in things from a distance, ideally while keeping the user safe from close contact with the target.
So, a gun, as a weapon is used differently than a sword, for instance, and it requires different skills and different strategies. Same thing as a hunting tool when compared to a hand-made spear. So the kind of person who is trained to use one weapon will turn out to be different than the kind who is trained to use the other.
That’s what I mean by technologies not being neutral.
I find it interesting that in most of these discussions someone eventually gets around to saying, “I’m not saying we should all be Amish,” but that betrays a lack of understanding of how the Amish approach technology. They don’t reject things outright. New technologies are picked up by interested members of the community and used for a while, while everyone else watches what happens. How does the technology actually affect the user? How does it change the way he’s been doing things? How does it affect his family? How does it affect the broader community? After a few years of watching this experimentation, the bishops will meet and begin discussing what they’re learning, and eventually reach a conclusion. This technology has these effects, so in order to protect our relationships with each other it may be used in this way but not in that.
It’s a slow and deliberate method of evaluating change, values the family and the community above individual convenience or profit, and is understood and respected by the community. Seems like a good plan to me.
A few years ago, Rick Saenz mentioned on his blog that prior to the Industrial Revolution, new technology developed really slowly so that the broader culture had time to adapt to the changes brought about by each new thing before the next new thing was developed. I think that was a blessing. The more I read about the Industrial Revolution the more I wonder why it happened. Why was it a revolution and not simply a continuation of the past slow progress? What was different and why had it changed? Even though we’ve benefitted materially in many ways from it, overall I can’t help but think that as human beings, as families, we really are not better off.
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