iPhone, iPad, iCan('t): Our Moral Dilemma with Technology, Part 2

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals.

This is the second installment in a two part series on technology.  

Last week we were left with the question: "If technology causes social, political, and economic harms, how should Christians respond and regard these inexorable changes?"

First, we need to take a step back: What are we actually supposed to think about technology? Is it a good or a bad thing? In addition to the bad above, has technology not also revolutionized our world, allowing for the sharing of information and news, the mobilization of revolutionary protests, and incredible new opportunities for learning—and all at the touch of a button, or nowadays, with the swipe of a finger?

This recognition leads Christians then to conclude—like all institutions and aspects of our lives—that technology represents both a good product of humanity’s divine “creation mandate” to engage in fruitful and productive activity, and a manifestation of our world’s fallen nature, corrupted by sin and distanced from our Creator.

This further reflection on my initial response to Newsweek’s article led to me to realize that my gut reaction, and fearful assessment of today’s technological revolution, was overly pessimistic, and out of line with what my beliefs regarding God’s world normally dictate. Technology, rightly employed, can enhance human flourishing and help us to further live as the beings that God created us to be. But as in all of creation, that same technology is prone to misuse and abuse that can disrupt our lives, and at worse further alienate us from the shalom God intended us to live in by entrenching injustices in the institutions governing and ruling our lives.

Our response then, should be to cultivate and encourage the good uses of technology, while properly responding, both politically and personally, to the evil it can also produce. Such an approach might manifest itself in many ways, drawing out the good that our world’s technological tools possess, and discouraging the evils it produces:

  1. Encouraging the use of tablets and adaptive curricular programs designed to stimulate student development in schools (especially for struggling students). Such innovative approaches to learning have received increasing attention for their potential to provide education that responds to a student’s needs, thereby enhancing each student’s ability to learn and permitting fewer students to suffer from a lack of individualized attention.
  2. Technology will likely displace large numbers of workers. But, as the Economist suggests, job-training programs for workers displaced by the relentless expansion of technology can help re-orient the skills of the labor force and prepare future generations for a world that is changed—but need not necessarily produce fewer opportunities for meaningful work.
  3. The use of technology in lesser-developed countries can address problems like natural disasters and government accountability, or mobilize citizens to protest against government inaction or injustice (a good example of this recently took place in my country of residence, Honduras). This is among the most exciting ways in which technology represents a positive product of human creativity. Crowdsourcing can allow for effective response in the aftermath of events like hurricanes or earthquakes. Citizens can leverage the power of the Internet to report instances of corruption or access information that previously belonged only in the hands of rich and powerful. And the immediacy of social media sites allows people to quickly convoke others to join them or to exercise their democratic right to be heard.
  4. Social media and the “viral” effect it allows can also awaken naïve or simply uniformed and unexposed citizens of the world’s advanced and rich democracies to the injustices suffered in far off countries (for better or worse, think of Kony 2012), or even in the low-income neighborhood on the other side of town. This is an important first step in working towards a more just world, and one which technology easily facilitates in our world today.

Thus, we see that technology can be a powerful tool—and that in fact, redemption exists in all parts of life, and even in those that sometimes may seem to thoroughly corrupted by evil. By approaching technology’s expansion in this manner, we can both faithfully respond to our creative mandate as humans and work to transform those aspects of our world that are need of God’s redemption, a work that we daily participate in as a part of God’s kingdom.

-Aaron Korthuis currently works for the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras on issues of citizen security. He graduated from Whitworth University in 2012, and will begin his legal studies at Yale Law School in the fall of 2014.