Technology

Here is a great article about cell phone use by Ken Myers.

How Would Jesus Call?
A Column for the Dallas Morning
News
 
By Ken Myers
 
An
article in the April issue of Wired magazine makes some frightening
predictions about the dangers of three cutting-edge technologies. Though Wired
is better known for treating the latest gadgets and high-tech systems
either with irreverent glee or awe-filled reverence, this article, written by
Bill Joy, cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems (and thus a high
priest among the digerati), sounds more apocalyptic than messianic. Joy warns
that future developments in genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology
(the development of microscopic machines) may pose a serious threat to human existence.
All three technologies aim to create self-replicating mechanisms.
 
Joy’s
article makes some very serious points that ought to be of particular concern
to theologians and religious ethicists. Even if his most ominous fears prove to
be as ill-founded as Y2K hysteria, his concern for attending to the unintended consequences
of technology is instructive.
 
With
few exceptions, religious people have not given enough thoughtful attention to
the social and cultural consequences of emerging technologies. When technical
devices are used for obviously immoral purposes (e.g., pornography on the
Internet), Christians express concern. But church leaders and theologians give
far too little attention to the subtle ways in which technologies reshape our
lives and thereby re-configure our moral understanding of the world.
 
Technologies
are usually developed to make a particular task more convenient, and
convenience is valuable. But it is not the only valuable thing, and it is up to
individuals and communities to determine when an increased level of convenience
is actually a hindrance to other human values.
 
Cell
phones, for example, make it easier for us to have immediate access to others
and to remain perpetually accessible. But certainly there are times when cell
phones should be turned off or left at home. Some restaurants now require
guests to disable their cell phones while dining. This shows respect for the
ambience of their dining rooms and honors the desire of other diners not to be
forced into the role of eavesdropper.
 
I’d
like to suggest that Christian people in particular give some attention to cell
phone etiquette. A thoughtful set of manners regarding cell phones could be a
small but significant way of reducing the sum total of dehumanizing behavior in
American culture. Such manners could demonstrate the high value Christians
place on embodiment, expressed in our doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and
Resurrection.
 
What
could cell phones possibly have to do with the Incarnation? Both involve the
significance of physical, embodied presence before others. The presence of
another person before us is a kind of moral claim, asking for the recognition
appropriate to a fellow human being. Likewise, when we make ourselves present
to others, we are showing respect. Thus when we visit someone in the hospital
or in prison (a situation Jesus alludes to in Matthew 25) instead of just
phoning or sending flowers, we demonstrate by our presence a higher level of
regard for their well-being.
 
The
idea of presence is an important one in Biblical religion. In his second
letter, the Apostle John writes, “I have much to write to you, but I do
not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you
face to face.” The Church is called the ekklesia, the assembly, the
place where believers are present to one another to encourage one another to love
and good works.
 
By
contrast, holding a telephone conversation while walking down the street or up
an aisle at the supermarket pointedly ignores the presence of others. The
importance of physical presence is thus de-valued. It also poses a kind of challenge
to passers-by.
 
In an
earlier, less hectic time, when you wanted to make a phone call, you isolated
yourself temporarily in a telephone booth (ask your parents if this is an
unfamiliar term). This guaranteed privacy for yourself but also spared strangers
the awkwardness of hearing half of your conversation, especially if the
conversation involved intimate personal details. The more primitive technology
imposed limits on where your body was when you made a call, but certain notions
about presence and
boundaries
were also encouraged.
 
Just
because we are now able to make calls anywhere anytime doesn’t mean that we
should. Whether or not we should is a question that, to my knowledge, hasn’t
even been raised.
 
To
treat the presence of another person with indifference is not just rude. It is
dehumanizing. Bill Joy’s dire predictions about technologies destroying
humanity may not come to pass. But there are already many instances of the
thoughtless use of technologies diminishing humanity. The unexpected and untested
convenience of cell phones has brought us into territory previously uncharted
by convention. The devices come with technical instructions, but no guidance
about their well-mannered
use.
Encouraged by a theology of human dignity, embodiment, and the value of
presence, Christians have the resources to make some small but notable
difference in this cyborg culture. Resistance is not futile.

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