Remarkable new technology and perennial tech challenges
A profound essay that shows us where we are and why we’re here
Why our ancient faith is so relevant to contemporary culture
Would you pay hundreds of dollars for something that lets you hang your mobile phone around your neck? Retailers are hoping so. As clothing fashions get tighter and cellphones get larger, manufacturers have developed phone bags we can wear. The Wall Street Journal recommends options ranging from $18 in nylon to $890 in woven leather.
In other technology news, Walmart will soon begin testing autonomous home delivery. A German company plans to make flying taxis a reality in the next six years. The first phone that doesn’t require accessories to work on a 5G network went on sale yesterday. And the world’s first foldable PC was announced this week, with deliveries slated for next year.
It seems I could report on new technology every day. This is good news for Christians, but in a way that might surprise us.
“The sum of human ingenuity”
Paul Ford is a technology company CEO and a software engineer. He is also an award-winning writer with articles in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Businessweek, NPR, and others.
His latest article in Wired is not just a brilliant, often funny literary experience—it’s also a profound statement about where we are and why we’re here. Ford begins with this description of how far technology has come in our lifetime:
“When I was a boy, if you’d come up behind me (in a nonthreatening way) and whispered that I could have a few thousand Cray supercomputers in my pocket, that everyone would have them, that we would carry the sum of human ingenuity next to our skin, jangling in concert with our coins, wallets, and keys? And that this Lilliputian mainframe would have eyes to see, a sense of touch, a voice to speak, a keen sense of direction, and an urgent desire to count my actual footsteps and everything I read and said as I traipsed through the noosphere [the sphere of human thought]? Well, I would have just burst.”
If you’re old enough to remember manual typewriters and rotary phones, you’re as old as me. A moment’s reflection is enough to find ways technology has revolutionized every minute of every day of our lives.
In fact, you could make the argument that, in technological terms, Abraham Lincoln had more in common with Abraham the Patriarch than with us.
“Amplifying individuals in all their wonder”
It’s not that the tech we use every day is without its challenges. Microsoft warned users this week that a computer bug it has now patched could be used as a cyber weapon in the future. Facebook patched its WhatsApp messaging application this week as well. And robocalls have become such a problem that the Federal Communications Commission is getting involved.
Ford notes that technology developers “ignored history and learned a lesson that has been in the curriculum since the Tower of Babel, or rather, we made everyone else learn it. We thought we were amplifying individuals in all their wonder and forgot about the cruelty, or at least assumed that good product design could wash that away.”
Then he makes a personal admission: “I’ve made a mistake, a lifelong one, correlating advancements in technology with progress. Progress is the opening of doors and the leveling of opportunity, the augmentation of the whole human species and the protection of other species besides. Progress is cheerfully facing the truth, whether flooding coastlines or falling teen pregnancy rates, and thinking of ways to preserve the processes that work and mitigate the risks. Progress is seeing calmly, accepting, and thinking of others.
“It’s not that technology doesn’t matter here. It does. We can enable humans to achieve progress. We make tools that humans use. But it might not be our place to lead.”
Why tech progress is good news for the gospel
In other words, technological progress is not necessarily true progress. Science that harvests nuclear energy can also produce nuclear weapons. Computers that spread the word of God can also spread pornography.
Here’s why I think the technological progress of our day is such good news for the gospel: it shows how desperately we need the gospel.
You and I live in a culture with greater scientific, medical, and technological advances than ever before in human history. Yet we still face the same problems our ancestors faced: We still sin. Our families struggle. We go to war with other nations. Our bodies wear out. We lose hope.
Even a tech professional like Paul Ford needs more than tech: “I have no desire to retreat to the woods and hear the bark of the fox. I like selling, hustling, and making new digital things. I like ordering hard drives in the mail. But I also increasingly enjoy the regular old networks: school, PTA, the neighbors who gave us their kids’ old bikes.”
The “God-shaped emptiness” in us all
Ford may not know it, but he is experiencing what Blaise Pascal called the “God-shaped emptiness” that is in every human heart.
The next time you wonder if your first-century faith is relevant to a twenty-first-century technological world, remember that the most important things in life are not things: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).
Remember that a saving personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to eternal life (John 17:3). Remember that you are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Then “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (v. 16).
Every person you know needs the Jesus you know.
NOTE: America is in desperate need of a word from the Lord. That’s not likely to come from political pundits or social media. To understand what God thinks of our country, the only source we can reliably trust is his Word.
And that’s the kind of clarity and insight you’ll find in my book coauthored with my son Ryan, How Does God See America?