For Mac enthusiasts, the above question may be a non-issue. Disciples of Apple’s designs are agog each time a thinner and sleeker iProduct is unveiled. But for the rest of us, technology - no matter how shiny - has value that’s distinctive from the delights of the natural world. Technology is functional and necessary, we feel, but not a thing of beauty.
I started to think about this differently, however, after listening to Wired Magazine’s Kevin Kelly at the recent Q Ideas conference. (And no, not because I had just bought an iPhone.) Kelly was there to discuss “What Technology Wants,” and in doing so he asked the audience to consider the ways that technology is “a reflection of the divine.”
That’s jarring, because we humans like to think of technology as our thing. We’ll credit God with the birds of the sky and fish of the sea – and even the natural elements that go into our microchips and computer screens. But when it comes to putting it all together and pulling Twitter out of our hat – that’s all us, right?
Not completely. God gave us the intellect and talent to make such things, but they’re reflective of him in another way, as well. Kelly suggested that technology, like nature, offers a glimpse of God in three distinct ways: By revealing his creativity, sense of design and emphasis on order. You can see these characteristics in a field of wildflowers or a flock of starlings; you can see them in a purring MacBook too.
What are the implications of recognizing such similarities? Firstly, it’s a reminder that we owe God thanks for these good things. Surely the advance of technology is also a part of God’s plan. Unlike deists, Christians believe God continues to interact with his creation - through his son Jesus, primarily, but also through all his children and through the good things he’s enabled us to devise.
Moreover, we have a mandate to care for technology as much as we do for the rest of creation. The parallel is potent here, too, in that much creation care consists of preventing abuse. Just as Christian stewardship involves anti-pollution efforts, so should efforts to prevent the exploitation of technology – in the name of greed, lust and the like – be a priority for Christians called to be an active part of tech culture.
The flip side of this is to be careful not to misuse God’s gifts – natural and otherwise – for ill. We must be careful not to allow technology to pollute our lives. We usually think of this in terms of the proliferation of pornography, but it can also happen in subtler ways. Are we spending more time with our smart phones than our families? Or we using social networks as avenues for gossip rather than good?
Perhaps it’s helpful to think of technology as something to tend. We cultivate our gardens, hopefully in responsible ways and hopefully toward some sort of common benefit. Maybe we can interact with technology in a similar way. Technology has woven itself into our lives so completely that it’s often thought of as frustrating and burdensome. Let’s not forget, however, that it’s part of our mandate to help technology flower, as well.