And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).
The advancement and development of technology is one of the undeniable catalysts of change over the past few centuries. Almost every aspect of daily life has been transformed to some degree by technology, from the way we wake up to how we interact with other people to how we get around. Our language must continually expand with new terms for which there was no need before: WiFi, social media, smartphone, etc; Microsoft Word 2007 does not even recognize two of those terms! Within a generation some forms of technology have come and gone; who under the age of 25 has even used a floppy disk so as to know what the “save” icon means?
Technology can often seem magical. Who in 1600 could have imagined modern life? We can cross oceans in hours on airplanes, dig deeply into the earth, send a man to the Moon and satellites into the deepest recesses of the solar system, and communicate with people around the world instantaneously. Household chores that would have consumed days of effort can be accomplished at the push of a button. We have access to almost unlimited information and knowledge in the palm of our hands. Modern life is thus fueled by technology.
There is much good that can be accomplished by and through technology. It is good to be able to communicate with people around the world; it is convenient to use dishwashers, vacuums, washers and dryers, and cars. Many lives have been saved through technological advancements in healthcare and other disciplines. We all have enough food on account of advancements in agricultural technology. Christians can use new forms of media to promote the Gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16).
While technology can be good many are turning it into their hope and savior. Far too often people look to technological advancements and developments to solve the problems of the world. People buy into the hope and promise of technology and the great things which are predicted in its advancement. Many prove willing to make questionable life decisions under the assumption that future technological advancements should be able to save them from the consequences of their behavior. In various ways, therefore, people are easily tempted to turn technology into a god.
We do well to remember that technology is morally neutral. Any and every technological advancement could be used for evil just as easily as it could be used for good. Humans learned how to harness the power of the atom; this technology was used equally to power homes and business as it was used in weapons to kill. The means of communications which can be used to encourage people are also used to terrorize, bully, or otherwise harm people. As technology has been used to save and preserve life so technology has also been advanced so as to kill people in greater numbers.
Technological advancement and development is often cited as the reason why many disagree with or even sneer at the Preacher when he declares that there is nothing new under the sun in Ecclesiastes 1:9. While it is true that the Preacher never used a smartphone or flew in an airplane, his premise bears consideration. For all its merits technology has not ended humanity’s difficulties with sexual immorality, lasciviousness, idolatry, enmity, strife, or other sins; if anything technology provides new and greater means by which to satisfy such desires. Technology has not answered the vexing questions of our origins, purpose, or ultimate destinations. Technological advancements may have transformed how we do things, and may have altered our behavioral patterns, but they have not changed what we have to do nor the challenges we face.
Technology is in many ways our modern day version of Babel, a means by which people attempt to make a monument for their own greatness (Genesis 11:4). It may seem excellent and worthy, but it will invariably fall short on its promises. There are many great uses for technology, but technology can never be an end unto itself, and technology cannot solve man’s most vexing problems. Future technology may provide some solutions to some difficulties; it may yet create more difficulties and cause others great pain. Technology was supposed to unite us; in many ways it has cemented tribalism. People are able to communicate with one another easily at any time and yet people feel more alienated and isolated than ever before. How many times have you seen people in near proximity and yet quite distant from each other because each is on his or her smartphone?
Technological advancements and developments are here to stay; there is no inherent virtue in living according to medieval practices. Technology will no doubt continue to advance and develop. This can be good; it also can be quite bad. As dystopian literature and films seek to remind us, technology may be a great tool but proves a terrible master or god. May we use discretion in our use of technology and use it to serve God and humanity and not become servants of our technology!
Ethan R. Longhenry