One cannot be so naieve to think that technology will not get to a point that it will out perform aspects of life that we take for granted as being the sole domain of the human experience. And one cannot be so naieve to think also that we will always be able to control the implications of the decisions that we make with technological advances – such that surprise will always force the hand of ingenuity and experience that seems to sit as the domain of creativity and purpose that God’s given each of us for our lives.
It is with those thoughts that I think about the piece of Pope Benedict XVI’s sermon on Palm Sunday which was quoted by the Ottawa Citizen:
All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free. Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful. With the increase of our abilities there has been an increase not only of good. Our possibilities for evil have increased and appear like menacing storms above history. Our limitations have also remained: we need but think of the disasters which have caused so much suffering for humanity in recent months.
What is somewhat unfortunate, is that the context of the quote pulls out of perspective some of what I think is many times lost in the magic of our technoloical times – that we are increasingly capable of creating some great things, being surprised by the most simple things, and in outright fear of what we don’t understand. And yet its at this intersection that we find many aspects of our lives challenged, disrupted, and bolstered by what has happened in such a short time.
We’ve gone from a few thousand mobiles in a lab and by a few wealthy elite to almost 2/3 of the world covered by mobile phones. We have more computing power in our hands with these devices than was used to send the first men to the moon. We can talk to one another instantly, almost making the entire world as close as a next-door neighbor. And indeed, these kinds of effects have also caused for the land to be stripped of its nutrients for farming, people to be exploited so that we can get to those choice materials faster and cheaper, and find several industries (many of which aren’t over 100 years old) falling aside to the personalization, speed, and raw ability to “just be there” of the Internet and these mobile windows. Surely, there are implications both perceived and missed when we take an honest look at just what is in our midst right now.
The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind. It was passionately disputed by the Platonic philosophers of the third and fourth centuries. For them, the central issue was finding the means of purification which could free man from the heavy load weighing him down and thus enable him to ascend to the heights of his true being, to the heights of divinity.
Is it true that we want to ascend to some level of God-hood with this technology. If you were to ask the most basic levels of users for different hardware or software, you might be surprised. That’s not what they want at all. They see a tool that seems as if it will solve their problem and they go for it. To them, they have little mind to think of the implications (long-term) or even how that tool was created that might cause an issue for them later.
And there are those who know a bit better. We know how to put things together (code or hardware). We understand the wizard behind the Oz and go along with it because it does fulfill some level of ego-posturing, self-worth to us. But we don’t stay there because we want to be gods either. However we come closeest to our basic tools brethren in understanding the slippery slope between it being a tool and an altar.
Finally, there are those who make decisions. In Ephesians 6, Paul makes the statement that could be unpacked here. There are those in authority in venues above us, who see what we don’t, make decisions that we can’t image, and are driven by things they can’t imagine. As often noted in the Scriptures – the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord and He turns it whatsoever way He desires. Those are the persons whose ego manifests itself in the products development, but not always in its direction. These are the folks most burdened by being surprised. And have the most to gain by not being surprised. And yet, they too are loaded with this weight of becoming the altar or crafting the tool.
It would seem that we are always engaged in trying to reach for something unattainable. And yet, there has been no time like the present that has shown us that even our imaginations aren’t too far from reality. I’m reminded of a man who has lived in computing since the 50s, and how the iPad is magical and dream-defeating in a sense to him. When we can go this far, there’s a fear that we might go too far. Or worse, that our creations for this life would spiral out of our control. And given that we aren’t much deposed to mercy it seems, that doesn’t bode well for any relationship betewen us and technology.
I personally don’t put much stock into the fear. As Pope Benedict XVI so duly noted at the end of that message:
We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, “which seeks your face, O God of Jacob” (cf. Ps 24:6).
If this is our focus, not just with tech, but with life. We’ve got nothing to do but continue to grow responsibily with these tools, and the moments that its afforded us. If we forget this focus, then we’ll be consumed in our vanity. And it will not be technology that is our end, but our own hands which cause us to miss His high calling through Christ Jesus.
Quotes from Pope Benedict XVI’s Palm Sunday message pulled from Catholid Online; this was previously published at Mobile Ministry Magazine.