God and Tech
I’m not a believer. I neither believe in God, nor do I believe in Tech.
I was the odd middle schooler who implored his parents to enroll him in catechism classes at the local church. The occasional religious holiday gathering, coupled with numerous friends accruing adulthood in the eyes of their faith through the rites of Confirmation and many a Bar Mitzvah, left me confused as to what actually was going on behind the scenes. After two years of study and a Confirmation of my own, I left the practice with a greater understanding and sense of accomplishment, but without a desire to continue.
I was also the odd 30-something that swapped a lucrative career to foray into the equally mystifying world of computer programming. Magical tales of limitless creative potential all from the keys of a laptop compelled me to learn the traditions of more modern teachings and disciplines. After three years of study, contracting, freelancing and a life spent in “the ether,” I left the industry with a greater understanding and sense of accomplishment, but without a desire to continue.
Maybe it wasn’t a lack of desire to continue, but a loathing of the ever consuming commitment that would be required to stay not only on top, but to stay in touch with the culture. To be in touch with Tech is to be ever vigilant of its needs for constant renewal: the latest gadgets, the newest phones, the best programming languages, and the hottest trends spurring the largest IPOs. Jettisoning this “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality also fails to provide insulation. Any attempt to hold, or to find a level of technological satisfaction, is made nearly impossible through planned obsolescence, perpetual updates and an internet infrastructure that swamps all but the newest products through its ever expanding reach and speed.
Sure, one could argue that progress is progress, and the boon of Tech comes with the tenet of continual upgrades. The hassle is just the price we pay to reap the rewards. But so many of these upgrades are superfluous. There seems to be a belief that constant “improvements” to applications or devices betters our state of existence. I could see that viewpoint, but there needs to be qualifiers beginning with a proper definition of what an improvement is. In no way is it to my advantage to have to re-learn a program that I once knew perfectly, if the upgrade in question breaks other existing features, or reorganizes the user experience in a way that the overall product is diminished. In the English language we don’t call this an improvement or an upgrade, but rather a deterioration.
There is another insidious problem that is often overlooked; even if an upgrade eventually results in perfect functioning, the time it takes to learn and adapt to the unsolicited changes must be taken into consideration. If the sum of the time and frustration it takes to serially readjust to our devices and software outpaces the amount of time feeling competent and the advantages of the bettered product, then this also qualifies as a loss. What is the purpose of the purported upgrade if the result is a greater outlay of time and frustration? Does the end justify the means if the stated end is overall convenience and simplicity in our lives while the means is the net reduction of those two very things?
Perhaps the simplest explanation for this apparent disconnect in behavior is that something altogether different has occurred. I see something going on in our society. It’s strange, but very understandable once one puts it in its right perspective. We have swapped God for Tech. I don’t think that God-whatever version-was a catch-all for prosperity and love. On the contrary, the idea was a massive contributor to war, death, violence, false kingship and legion of other woes. However, it carried many tag-alongs that we still find purposeful in our lives.
Love, respect, decency, “a concern for the other guy”-these were latent in most Western religious views. Human as we are, an idea we create has a shelf-life and we quickly tire of a religious concept when it loses its lustre or authority. Not able to sit still for even a moment and ponder how we once held such strong beliefs, as well as why we’ve moved past them, we instead have found an electric conduit to salvation. Tech. On its face, Tech replaces one God and whets our religious longing. For one, God can now be pocketed and personalized to your ever shifting views. No need for the old-timey Lord who stood by age old aphorisms and judged accordingly. Now you can modify your God as you please at any time of day or night. If you don’t like what your personalized God is feeding you, change it. You can change it again and again and again, after all, it’s your God, in your image, on demand.
I didn’t grow up in a religious family, but a few of the ideas seeped into my daily existence. Do to others as you would have them do to you. That was a big part of my life, as I’m sure it was and is for many. I haven’t had to update it in a couple thousand years. When was the last time you updated your golden rule? Mine was there since before I was born, I’ve never had to update it, and yet it works perfectly except when I conveniently ignore it. In the Tech World, we don’t call that a design flaw, but a user error. Tech cares not for morals and values, only upgrades and change for the sake of change. Our new God must also be appropriately titled. It must have a monosyllabic moniker, and like any World Class Brazilian footballer, it must be referred to by only one name. Most importantly, it has to be differentiated from technology-only then will it be worthy of replacing The Lord.
Tech and technology are not the same. People don’t camp out for days at a time waiting to pay thousands of dollars for the newest technology, yet they will do so for the latest Tech. Tech is not going to assist in open heart surgery, or help to deliver a baby, for that is the purview of technology. Tech is fetishized. Tech is fashionable. Tech is blind faith. Technology is a tool, a current endpoint derived from a long lineage of engineering and science. We use technology without thoughts of doing things for it, or in its name. Like the rules and morals we have subsumed and adapted from religion, they exist to serve us. We have a reciprocal relationship with God. In exchange for gifts, we pledge devotion-and so it is with Tech.
We are shockingly unquestioning as to why we are willing to sacrifice convenience and simplicity for… less convenience and simplicity. Whether or not we actually benefit is ancillary to the greater sacrifice. If we sacrifice to Tech now, somewhere off in the future we will all reap the benefits. Right? Does this sound familiar? Not only does Tech promise a future paradise once only the domain of God, but Tech also serves as a modern catch-all for many of our societal woes. It is Tech who is to blame when our information is hacked and stolen, the capriciousness of Tech is why you can’t access your email, or why your internet is down, or why the stock market crashes unexpectedly.
Tech has its rituals. We say a little prayer to tech before we sit down to a meal, or before we go to bed, checking our phones to avoid missing a divine message from Facebook, or Twitter (Tech’s disciples). When the generally accepted observances change, we dutifully accept them and update our devices so as not to be punished for our sins with viruses. Our new deity even has its own holiday. Cyber Monday, a far more anticipated day than the rather quaint and staid Thursday the week before. Spending time with real people and giving thanks will not curry favor with Tech-and it’s boring!
The strongest parallel between God and Tech is to be found in their omnipresence. While believers may doubt its omnipotence, there is little argument as to its ubiquity. Tech is everywhere around us. It has changed behavior to the degree that many of us can no longer find our way to a grocery store, make simple mathematical computations, or remember a good friend’s phone number without it. When we look to Tech and it is not there, the supplications begin: “Please just turn on,” “Why doesn’t this work?”, “What did I do wrong?” True believers simply can not live without it.
None of this is meant to offend or denigrate those who believe in either of these sacred entities. In a way, even non-believers must admit that our world has been molded and changed, mostly for the better, by the compassion, technological advancements and rules that grew out of these religions. I would implore Tech’s acolytes to keep a wary eye on the darker aspects of this new deity, lest this growing new sect lead us all unwittingly into idolatry.
I’m not a believer. I neither believe in God, nor do I believe in Tech.
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Originally published at http://williewitten.com.