In a thoughtful blog post from Andy Bannister, he discusses what happens when technology fails us. It’s not that the technology is “bad;” it is only the use of such technology that fails us.
Take Google Glass. At this point, they are really no more than an expensive toy. However, there are those who have a bigger vision for Google Glass.
Particular controversy has been caused because Google Glass comes equipped with a camera and that raises all manner of privacy issues. The US Congress actually sent a list of questions to Google, one of which was “Will it ship with facial recognition software?” Although Google replied “No”, other software developers have stepped into the gap.
One such developer is Stephen Balaban, whose company has launched facial recognition software for Google Glass. In an interview with technology website Ars Technica, the 23 year-old programmer explained his excitement at what a Google Glass headset equipped with his software could do. Balaban waxed lyrical about the wonder of having a conversation with a stranger, all the while your Glass headset looking them up and feeding you information about them:
I think that would be a fantastic experience to not only understand who you’re talking to but to bring context to a conversation. I would love to live in a world where the things that you have in common with somebody and the shared experiences are available on the fly. I think that makes conversation far more efficient. I think that makes interactions with conversations better. You can relate to them in ways that you couldn’t otherwise.’
Note what Balaban says: “I think that makes conversation far more efficient.” Is that really what we are looking for in our human interactions? We want efficiency? Balaban’s thought is, “I want to know whether or not this person in front of me is worthy of my time or not.”
Those words haunted me for days afterward: “makes conversation more efficient”. The subtext, the assumption, the worldview reflected here is one that Neil Postman famously called “technopoly”, the idea that technology is king, that there is no human problem that technology cannot solve. Balaban’s statement assumes that what we lack, what we need is more information. I think he’s dead wrong. What most people are crying out for is not more information but deeper relationships.
Bannister goes on to explain how this view of technology impinges upon the Christian worldview:
As human beings we are designed for relationship and any attempt to outsource this to or augment this basic need with technology is doomed to failure, because what we yearn for is not robots but relationship, not programmes but persons, not computers but communion. The Christian worldview explains where this desire for relationship, for intimacy comes from: because we are created in the image of a God who, as the doctrine of the Trinity makes clear, is himself persons-in-relation.
Further, Bannister reminds us that God did not love us so much that he sent us information and technology. No, our God entered creation as a Person, in order to be in relation with us, face-to-face. In other words, Bannister reminds us that Christianity is not about what you know, but who you know. Technology that focuses on efficiency in terms of human interaction fails us; it makes us less human.