Getting Technology Right

May 21, 2009


walle_03_small“What WALL-E Got Right.”

That was the title of a talk Andy Crouch gave at the 2009 Flourish Conference, and if you’ve seen the charming, intelligent Pixar film about a robot who is much more than metal and electrical pathways, you undoubtedly recognize that the film got a lot right. It tells a meaningful and satisfying story, features characters of true pathos, and–for being a collection of pixels–is quite beautiful.

All that may be obvious. But Andy illuminated WALL-E’s success on a different level: Along with demonstrating what it means to be fully human, emphasizing the human responsibility to cultivate what is good in the world, and granting dignity to the imperfect and the embodied, WALL-E shows us that machines can be our friends … sometimes.

As the capacity for what we can do through technology expands every day, we have a lot of important questions to ask about our new-found power, especially in the context of Christianity, and in the context of our call to steward the earth. Do we let ourselves be absorbed into life as it happens on the internet and communication as it speeds through space and into our iPhones? Or do we reject technological advancement, eschewing “the world’s” disconnect from the physically and naturally real in a sort of nouveau Ludditism?

As usual, Andy demonstrated, the answer falls somewhere in between, and is constantly shifting–requiring our vigilance and discernment. When technology allows us to be more human by enabling us to better steward the earth and love our neighbor, then we must familiarize ourselves with it in order to best honor God through it. But we should not be supplanted by technology–we should still be in control, using it for the best. It should shape us into more of what we’re supposed to be—not less.

Along those lines is this interview from Christianity Today. It’s with Shane Hipps, a former advertising guru with Porsche who is now the pastor of a Mennonite church in Phoenix and author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith. Hipps warns against our abstraction from interpersonal community and the tangible world via excessive plugged-inness, cautioning against the anti-gospel “puberty of the mind” and expectation of efficiency that tools like the internet can produce in us if they are not subjugated to wise and careful use.

“But what do WALL-E and the internet have to do with creation care?” some might ask. But that’s just it. It all has to do with creation care, just as creation care, and everything else we encounter in life, has to do with the Christian faith. When we enter into using the tools provided for our use, we, as God’s children, are given an awesome responsibility to use those tools to God’s glory in every area of life we inhabit. Failing to use technology for the cultivation of the earth’s and others’ well-being may well render it a destructive, rather than redemptive, force.

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