Know Your Tools

Last week was my first week to miss posting since the end of June or the beginning of July. (Yes, I could check exactly when it was. No, I’m not going to.) I have been aiming to write one or two posts a week, and while I’ve never yet achieved two posts in a week (I’ll get there one day), last week I missed it entirely. I think I have a good excuse though–better than “the dog ate my homework” type anyway–I have been away from home since last Tuesday, and have spent quite a bit of that time travelling. In fact, since I have studiously avoided buying a smartphone and thus having the internet follow me everywhere, I have spent very little time on the internet since I’ve left home, until today. Which is good. Life really can go on without the internet–well, work and study can’t, but leisure time can– for a little while, although I have to admit that after going three days without checking my emails, I was pretty keen to log in again! And as for the blogs I normally check almost daily (and sometimes, ahem, a number of times per day), why, until today I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t been reading them. Perhaps I don’t need to check them as often as I do when the the internet is at my fingertips. Note to self, perhaps? Oh, but the pull is hard to resist. Hmmm.

On that theme, while on one of my plane trips last week, I finished reading From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology by John Dyer. Now that I’ve read it, I would like to fish out Tim Challies’ The Next Story, which I read about two years ago, I think, to see how they compare, but as that is on my shelf at home and I am thousands of miles from said shelf, I have a hunch that such a fishing attempt would be doomed from the outset. From what I remember, however, I think Challies provided a more robust treatment of the topic, but Dyer’s book is still a helpful introduction to an issue which I think we really ought not overlook.

For me, one of the most helpful things about From the Garden to the City, and the only point that I want to mention here, is an apt illustration that he used. (To a certain friend–you know who you are–he nailed it.) I’m not going to run upstairs and grab the book and start to carefully summarise. Memory will do, and I think I can get across the general idea, with something of my own flavour added to the mix but due credit to Dyer! Technology, Dyer points out in his book, is not neutral. A computer can be used to spread God’s truth or to spread lies, but that doesn’t mean that the only important thing about a computer is how we use it. Like any tool, a computer (or any sort of technology) shapes its user. Now to the illustration. A shovel is used to dig a hole. (I’m sure it can also serve other purposes, but I confess it’s not a topic I’ve fully explored….) The shovel changes the ground. A hole appears where no hole was before. But the shovel has also changed the shovel-er, or at least it will do if he uses it repeatedly. His hands, Dyer pointed out, will get blisters. His back may hurt and his arm muscles get stronger. The shovel has changed the earth but it has also changed the man. Now, that’s not necessarily a big problem, but it’s a consequence that one ought to be aware of, and not just with shovels but with any tool, and in particular with the barrage of technological “tools” that have so changed our lives in recent years. The consequences may be minor or they may be more important. Yes, you can use a search engine, for example, in good ways or bad. But the mere act of regularly searching the internet will also shape you. It’s not just what you do with the tool, Dyer says, it’s what the tool does to you. Maybe those changes aren’t a problem. Or maybe they should be avoided, or to some degree counteracted in a different way. But let’s not fool ourselves that there are no changes, that there is no shaping. Unconvinced? Read From the Garden to the City, The Next Story, or both. I know that I could definitely improve in this area. And now to finish up this post, to put my shovel away. For now….

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