Technology: Tool or Tyrant?

By David Gill, reprinted from The 313.

Let’s begin with

two cheers for technology! I am thankful for the vaccinations I am being given for Covid-19 – not to mention those I have been given to protect against measles, polio and other diseases. And I am thankful for texting, phoning, emailing, skyping and zooming, especially over this past year of mandated, necessary social distancing. Of course, I am also grateful for the computer technologies that have enabled me to write (my ninth book came out in September, and I crank out a pretty constant flow of reviews, essays, and email correspondence). Water purification, heating, transportation . . . the list is huge: I am grateful for technology.

But. But I am the opposite of grateful for the constant stream of unsolicited junk e-mail I have to delete every day (more in quantity than the real stuff). I don’t like being badgered with ads for items I searched for and long ago lost interest in. I don’t like the invasions of my privacy or the worrisome vulnerability to hacking, theft, and sabotage, not just of my personal information but of the public and private data banks and energy grids I depend on. I appreciate GPS in my car when I want to find the best way to an address – but I am increasingly ignorant of my city’s layout because I rely on GPS. In short, technology not only brings strengths into my life but weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Technologies are never just neutral “add-ons” but always “trade-offs” with costs as well as benefits. Too often we ignore the costs.

More and more it seems like technological growth and change happen whether we like it or not. Nobody asked us if we want to be replaced at work by robots or want to inhabit a world of driverless vehicles. Nobody asked me if I wanted my CDs to be obsolete overnight with no player in today’s new vehicles. Nobody asked me if I wanted my banking to be connected to a global network – with its benefits to travel but vulnerabilities to hacking and breakdown. Technology barges ahead whether we like it or not.

It is almost impossible to imagine a workplace – even a small business, even a work-at-home calling like raising kids – unconnected to the internet, without a personal or business web site. But how far shall we (must we) go in embracing technology? Should we always yield to the newest technology, always upgrade, always add more? How can we keep technology as a valuable tool in the toolbox of life and not let it become a tyrannical king on the throne of life and work?

Can I suggest two strategies for managing our technology?

First, always identify the purpose, the End, the product, the service, the deliverable at which we are aiming.  Then, and only then, consider the tools, the Means, the strategies that best and most appropriately will help us achieve those End goals. The great problem is that technology does not deserve to be the End of life and business. It can be a great means but it is not a worthwhile end. Do not sign on, purchase, or commit to an old or new technology unless and until it is clear that it is the preferable means to your goal.

Second, make sure you have a “posse” or “think tank” of good friends and colleagues to help you work through your technology questions. Technology is an “amplifier” – it multiplies the strength, power, and impact of our actions. It can do great good. But it can also do great harm so get some good counsel before you commit and invest.

There is only one ultimate Savior as we deal with life’s challenges, and it cannot be Technology. There is only one ultimate Lord to whose leadership we yield, and it is not Technology. And there is only one God deserving our adulation, awe, sacrifice, and praise, and it is not technology. Behind and around all the complexity of today’s technology, whether we are techie creators or just users, this is the big question: who is going to be Savior, Lord and God here?

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