By David Hegg
To quote Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher and Nazi party leader, is often to evoke wide-scale criticism and rightly so. But in an important area he was right. Thought to be among the most original and important thinkers of the modern era, Heidegger had much to say about technology. In a 1954 publication he stated his position clearly.
“Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.”
His primary point was that technology does not come without corresponding consequences to humanity that are both numerous and significant. Of course, we are all aware of the benefits of technology. Just think about the fact that 35 years ago the Internet and cell phones were not part of everyday life. Now we shudder to think of life without them. Add to that the advancements in medical technology, information systems, computerized processes, and the unknowns that come with our infatuation with artificial intelligence, and we must admit we’re in deep when it comes to technology and the conclusions its many forms bring into the fabric of our lives.
And yet technological advancement has come with a cost. I’d like to mention just one of the many attitudinal and ethical consequences I see as detrimental.
It is increasingly the case that technology insists we believe that important and monumental tasks ought to be easy to accomplish. What once took hours of planning and work can now be accomplished with the touch of a few buttons. More and more when something needs to be done, from organizing material and producing results to having the latest information at our fingertips, our first hope is always that “there’s an app for that” or even better, a scientific entity that specializes in finding and organizing answers into solutions we can access at will. I fear that technology has seduced us into thinking that the challenges of life should be decreasing in number, rapidly.
This season is a good example. We have seen the explosion of data that claims to represent the truth about COVID-19, all coming from computer models, and specialists of every kind, even though with all the information, we find ourselves floating in uncertainty, and drifting into information overload and even despair.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have an iPad, MacBook, iPhone, and Apple watch. I use them all, and don’t know where I’d be without them. I like what technology enables society to do. But I must agree with Heidegger that the basic material needed to live life well is not to be gained through technology. There just isn’t an app or scientific solution for most of life’s truly perplexing problems.
The cultivation of character as well as the essential elements of relationships, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and other acts demanding relational courage can never be accomplished through technological devices simply because they demand consistent, focused, value-driven effort. The best things in life are not easy. The best successes in life take the kind of commitment that starts in the heart and flows outward through discernment, love and courage.
In my mind, this has become all the more apparent as we have, as a society, developed great anxiety over a virus despite being deluged with science, data and other results of the latest technology. Here’s the question that plagues us: How come, with all the technology and expertise and models and investigative reporting, we’re still in the dark, and quite drastically divided as a nation in the face of this bug? The answer is we’ve been worshipping at the altar of scientific advancement so passionately that we’ve forgotten to grow the needed muscles of character, courage, patience and perseverance.
With all of his faults – and they are legion – Heidegger was right about one thing. Technology is not neutral, and those who purposefully blind their eyes to its negative consequences do so at their peril. The simplest solution is to see technology as a tool to be used, but never as a master to be served, or a necessary component for satisfied living. Remember, the best things in life aren’t things, and they certainly aren’t electronic. After all, you’ll get no sense of belonging by snuggling with your smartphone.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.