Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Apostle John on Technology

Some interesting comments on the use of communication technology:
We mentioned the apostle John’s view of technology found in 2 John 12, where he wrote, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
John was comfortable using the communication technology—pen and ink—of his day, but he did so with a set of values that were contrary to the tendencies built into the technology of writing. Whereas a letter requires that one isolated person write a message and then another isolated person later read that message, John says that his joy is never complete until he is physically present with his community.
And yet, aware of this problem, John used writing because he understood both its helpfulness and its problematic value system. From that perspective he was able to use technology in service of the embodied communal life that Christ taught him. When John could not be physically present with his community, he was comfortable using technology to communicate with them. But he was always careful to state that he considered technologically mediated relationships to be inferior to embodied relationships.
For John, both embodied and disembodied communication were “real”; he simply believed that only face-to-face reality offered him “complete joy.” The great temptation of the digital generation is to inadvertently disagree with John and assume that online presence offers the same kind of “complete joy” as offline presence.
Our problem is not that technologically mediated relationships are unreal, nor is the problem that all online communication is self-focused and narcissistic. Rather, the danger is that just like the abundance of food causes us to mistake sweet food for nourishing food, and just like the abundance of information can drown out deep thinking, the abundance of virtual connection can drown out the kind of life-giving, table-oriented life that Jesus cultivated among his disciples.
Social media follows the device paradigm in that it masks the long, sometimes arduous process of friendship and makes it available at the press of a button. Yet, just because social media follows the device paradigm does not mean that we should abandon it any more than we ould abandon air-conditioning. Though such speculation is rarely useful, we can only assume that if the apostles were alive today, they would continue using the technology of the day. Yet, as John modeled for us, they would do so with their value system in mind, always seeking to use technology in service of embodied life, not as a replacement for embodied life.
- John Dyer, From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology
Hat Tip: Kingdom People