Critiques of Technology

Christian 'Values'

Previous Chapter: Technology


  Thanks to modern technology, we generally live longer, healthier, cleaner, and physically easier lives than did Mary or Martha, or for that matter, most of our ancestors. Yet we must acknowledge the problems caused by technology: injuries and deaths due to transportation accidents, illnesses and environmental damage caused by pollution, moral dilemmas posed by medical technology, and confusion and frustration caused by unnecessarily complex consumer devices, to name but a few.

The Ongoing Debate About Technology

Critics: Ellul and Postman

But, going beyond the obvious disadvantages of technology of which we are all aware, critics like Ellul (1963, 1964, 1980, 1990) and Postman (1992) cite subtler yet deeper and possibly more significant problems: that technology isolates us from each other and from the natural environment; that, beside its intended good consequences, it always has unforeseeable bad effects; and that technology may be out of human control.

Apologists: Stock and Florman

Defenders of technology, like Stock (1993) and Florman (1994), while acknowledging that technology does have its problems, counter the critics with arguments of their own. They assert that technology binds society together and makes the natural environment more accessible and understandable; that the good effects of technology far outweigh the bad effects; and that since technological development is a human activity, by definition we do have mastery over it. Furthermore, they contend that on the whole, modern technology has given us a vastly better life and that solutions to the problems mankind faces will be solved with more technology, not less.

An Alternative Approach

  Critical statements about modern technology, whether pro or con, are based on standards of value: what is good and what is bad. Yet most critics and apologists of technology fail to explicitly state the standards on which they base their assessments. As a result, the validity of their arguments cannot be fully evaluated.

As an alternative to non-grounded critiques of modern technology, I offer the following approach. First, to establish a framework for talking about value, I summarize some of the major terms and concepts relating to value. Next, I explicitly lay out a set of value standards by summarizing Jesus’ principal teachings on the subject. Then, I assess modern technology by examining its role in realizing the good and the bad as declared by Jesus.

I use Jesus’ standards for three reasons. The first is that I am a Christian, so they are most familiar to me and it is most natural for me to use them. The second reason is that though some readers may not be Christians, they will likely understand -- if not agree -- with many of Jesus’ teachings on value. The third reason I will discuss after introducing some value terminology and concepts.


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