[Editor’s Note: This is week ten of the From the Garden to the City Blog Tour]
Dyer’s after ‘technicism’ in chapter 10 of his marvelous book, which he defines as the belief that “technology will one day solve all our problems.” It’s a careful definition, oriented not toward the things themselves but those who use them. Dyer’s appropriately wary of the ideology, likening it to an alternative form of religion. It’s got its savior (the stuff itself), it’s prophets (commercials), and the future hope that technology will bring about that ever elusive utopia we’ve all been hanging around for.
Of course, Dyer recognizes that most people don’t go about “openly confessing with their mouths that technology is lord and savior.” And yet, pose a question to the simple and easy pragmatism of choosing the quickest, easiest path of least resistance and you will inevitably draw a blank stare. We take the path technology offers because, well, why wouldn’t we? It solves our problems, at least immediately, and we don’t have the foresight to say what problems it might create.
Of course, the tacit dimension makes getting inside the ideology all the more difficult. For his part, Dyer helpfully takes us back to the beginnings and tells the creation myth of how technology was transmogrified from tool to anti-christ. It’s all there, and audaciously so: the rise of machines and the desire to conquer nature, the Luddite counter-reaction (deftly handled by John), the rise of advertising and consumer credit which accompanied the expansion of industry, and the need to create perpetual dissatisfaction in order to keep the machines a’runnin when most everyone owned the basics. Dyer goes careening around some historical corners with breathless pace, but while it’s all a bit treacherous you arrive in one piece.
And then, the alternative. If technicism is not our path, where else can we go? Dyer drops in Albert Borgmann’s “device paradigm” as a way of helping us discern how to live within a world with technicist idolatries. Devices, for Borgmann, are those tools that do in seconds what previously took hours. Fine to use them, of course, but they do bury the process of how things are done beneath the surface, enabling us to only attend to results.
This paradigm is the handmaiden to technicism, for it enables the maximum amount of control with the least amount of effort–the heartbeat of the techno-utopia. But we can establish counter-practices to moderate its effects, what Dyer and Borgmann call “focal points and practices.” Leave in the cooking to make space for the fellowship that accompanies it, in other words. The point of our lives is not simply to do things and move on, but to relish the process with others along the way.
So much we can do to challenge technicism, the spirit of our age.
Dyer’s chapter is masterfully done, and typically insightful. An example of the sort of helpful clarifying and instructing that he does throughout the book. Which is why, I think, I feel compelled to do him the honor of offering a gentle critique and a question, in the spirit of furthering the discussion.
First, in the movement of history, I wonder whether John has given too much weight to the technological developments that brought about technicism, and not enough to other social or intellectual changes. Part of our resistance to technicism might be to retell the narrative of history in a framework that is different than the technological one. This is especially true for us as Christians, as the history of the church is so often told through the lives of its saints.
Second–and I pose this as a question, and nothing more—if our technicism is (for most of us) tacit, then I wonder whether the intentional practices of “focal points” are sufficient to ward off technicism’s negative effects in us. John’s focus on the table is a good example that helps his case, because it is an alternative community that is all being simultaneously shaped by a practice. But otherwise, we’re left with individual intentionality against a sea of undermining messages. I’m not opposed to the intentionality of focal points. I simply wonder whether it’s enough.
Of course, such questions don’t impinge on the excellence of John’s work or the urgency of his message. Technicism is a disease, and a toxic one at that, which sets itself up against the knowledge of God. The world may not look like the ruins of the age that preceded it, but that is only because technicisims power stems from its ability to present a pretty face with a hollow soul.
[Next week, we review chapter eight: Virtualization]