Craig M. Gay argues in Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal that human flourishing is not grounded in blind advancement for the sake of advancement but rather in a theological grounding of the Incarnation and its vision for the future of humanity.
Gay begins by noting that he is not intending to dismiss technology or be some kind of Luddite. Instead, he urges that we–all people–need to view technology with at least some measure of caution. Rather than accepting hat life-changing technologies will just get developed and used, it may be worth a dose of skepticism when it comes to thinking about how these technologies may impact our lives and future.
A survey of a few reasons for skepticism about technology is first offered. For example, Gay explores the notion that things like Google and easy access to search engines, simultaneously with limiting factors like 140 (or 280) characters may be making humans lazy intellectually (37ff). The easy access to surface-level information tends to make everyone feel an expert, while not engaging in long-term, strategic thinking or planning (ibid). Alongside this, when aspects of thinking or behavior become autonomous, human abilities decline as we simply rely on autonomous features to assist us. Autonomous systems deprive humans of the ability to learn through experience (37-38). Technological unemployment–the notion that autonomy will replace human jobs–is another concern. Technology can outdo humans at a significant rate in some fields, leading to unemployment and potential lost of means of living.
Gay argues that there is a kind of “technological worldview” that is offered that drives complacency when it comes to the development and adoption of new technologies. This worldview, in part, is made up of materialist assumptions about the world, such as the notion that a scientific explanation of the world can allow us to re-engineer or re-organize the world as we see fit. A mechanistic view of nature accompanies this, and it is interesting to observe that some of this comes from Christian thinkers of the past.
A question of “what now” appears obvious following these concerns about humanity and technology. Gay argues we must course correct against notions that disembody humans. We ought to repent of our continued desire for and striving after of total autonomy that separates us from God (169). Worship and faith life must be encouraged to be deeply personal rather than impersonal. We can see the full embodying nature of Christianity in the Incarnation, and the Eucharist is offered as a deeply personal and real example of this. Here, Gay’s vision of the Eucharist is deeply influenced by John Calvin, and the mileage different readers may get from this final reflection may depend upon how they align with this view. As a Lutheran myself, I think it doesn’t go far enough.
A critical comment might be offered in response to portions of the book. For example, the cautionary tale of technology, in general, may be offset over time by other factors. Automation of basic tasks may allow humans to explore new heights that they had not done before. Though it is clear that search engines and encyclopedias online make it easy to gain a simple, surface level knowledge of virtually anything, they can also encourage further research and study through additional sources and links and citing books. Though I wouldn’t claim there is no cause for concern regarding technology and the human future, it also seems that we may be at a crossroad in which we can work actively to harness technology for human good rather than retreat from or slow it down–something that seems unlikely to happen. Indeed, if the “technological worldview” is as pervasively imbibed as Gay appears to suggest, it may be impossible at this point to slow down technology, so working actively towards developing teaching techniques and other important human skills to work with technologies as they develop may be a better tactic.
Overall, Modern Technology and the Human Future is a book that will make readers think, whether they agree or disagree. At minimum, it will spur readers to think critically when they engage with modern technology and perhaps push themselves to learn more about it and try to control their own interaction with it.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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