Technology: A Day in the Life

February 9, 2011


By Andy Patton

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

Recently, in preparation for a lecture I was giving, I tried to make a list of every piece of technology I came across in a single day. The list got very long, very quickly. I wrote down everything from the pen and Post-Its I was making the list on to things like the internet or television. The list was made up of not only high-tech things like a cell phone, but low-tech things like the screw on the cap of my tube of toothpaste. The act of watching my life that closely, examining it for ways it is affected by technology was an unusual but eye-opening process. Here are a few thoughts I had while I was making the list:

  • My list was nowhere near long enough. I quickly came to realize that even the things I did write down were themselves products of a long chain of technology. The Post-Its began as trees and then were cut, milled, processed into paper, then shipped, packaged, and sold. The pen in my hand came from a factory full of technology. It was designed and engineered to precise specifications. Hundreds of hours of human creativity went into producing that single pen. The real list would be not only wide in terms of  the breadth of technology I came across but also deep in terms of the many hundred technologies it took to bring me even the simplest piece of paper. Not only that, but some things were too dense with technology to possibly list all the technologies that made them up. For my car I just wrote “car,” yet how many thousands of pieces of technology are involved in driving my car? Everything from the fuel that the engine burns to the seat belts and airbags are pieces of technology.
  • Every inch of my life has been shaped by technology. Every thing I touched, tasted, saw, and heard, and smelled. From the toothbrush I cleaned my teeth with to the internet I’m writing this blog on is a product of human creativity. There is no escape from it. From the first moment I woke I was surrounded by it. I had 20 items on the list before I left my bed. The air that I breathe, the chemistry of my body, the content of my thoughts, the waves passing through my skull are all shaped by technology. I couldn’t escape it completely  if I tried.
  • This is what we were made for! We are made in God’s image and he set us down in the world and bid us to be fruitful and multiply. God commanded humanity to subdue the earth. The word subdue here has so many negative connotations, but in its essence it means to make the world livable. To create those things which will contribute to human flourishing. However, as Wendell Berry said, “Humankind cannot live in pure nature.” That means we have to build things. We have to create. We have used our minds and hands to come up with such a wonderful array of things. The fact that we create is a good part of what it means to be human. Technology is a gift and a part of what it means for us to be made in the image of God.
  • That means not only building things, but improving them. It is a good thing to improve on the things we make. Don’t just build houses, but build houses that keep us drier, safer, warmer, and more comfortable physically and mentally. We build houses that foster human community, houses that are places our children will love and then we settle down  in them, make them lovely, make memories, and live lives.
  • Despite the wonderful array of our creativity, our creation is nothing compared to God’s. I found myself thinking about how all of this was only re-arranging what he had made. We are, as Tolkien put it, “sub-creators.” This is not to diminish our work of creating, this re-arranging is what he made us for, but his work is on a completely different level. In the morning I sat in the kitchen and heard the birds singing and realized that he was the one who made the songs of the birds. He made living things that reproduce themselves. He made the atoms in the table I was sitting at and the things that make up those atoms, and he did it all from nothing.
  • Finally, if you really think about the list you begin to praise God. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it and all of it reflects his glory! The fact that it exists at all is a testament to God’s glory and what we have done with it is too. The Bible says that God made all things and not only that, continues to sustain their very existence because he is committed to them, knows them, and cares for them. If that even my nail clippers are a testament of God’s care for me, and if that doesn’t make you thankful you aren’t paying attention.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey February 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for the thoughts! When I consider my technology list I normally just relegate it to cell phones and lap tops. But when I look at it this way I see that indeed, we cannot even get out of bed without recognizing the impact of technology on our lives. Which makes me keep considering how to use it all for the common good. How to use our resources, creative energies and products to improve lives rather than hinder them. Great thoughts as I type via my laptop while listening to the whir or an espresso machine. Thanks!

andy February 23, 2011 at 2:03 am

I agree. That is why I found this exercise so interesting and useful. Defining technology as only things that can be purchased at Best Buy is too narrow. Take eating for example. If we think about technology that we use in eating the first things that come to mind are fancy kitchen gadgets, but under the definition that technology is merely what we use our creativity to create the answer opens up. Recipes are piece of technology. Heating our food is a technological technique.

In that context the need for nuances in the discussion about how to use technology becomes so much more apparent. The simplistic categories of Luddite vs. Technophile are too clunky to be helpful. Seeing exactly the extent to which technology is present in our lives is just the first step to using it in a God-honoring, humanizing way.

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