Amid the din of warnings about modern technology's impact on the soul, Kevin Kelly sounds like the happy evangelist from Geekdom. "[W]e can see more of God in a cell phone than in a tree frog," the Wired magazine cofounder claims in his most recent book, What Technology Wants. A provocative title, to be sure, introducing a more provocative thesis: All human artifacts, from words to wheels to Wikipedia, together act like a living, breathing organism that reflects something of the Divine. "Technology has its roots in God's work through the universe," Kelly told CT associate editor Katelyn Beaty as she sat down with the San Francisco native at this year's Q conference, where Kelly was speaking. He believes that as participants in the technium—Kelly's word for this tech-ecosystem—"when we try to increase the options in the world, we are part of something godly."
Kelly came to Christ in 1979, when he got locked out of a Jerusalem hostel and ended up sleeping on a stone slab in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. He talked with CT about the Amish, his vision of heaven, and why he doesn't own a smart phone.
You use the term the technium to discuss all artifacts that humans have made since the beginning. Why not just use the word "culture"?
I use technium to emphasize that human creation is more than the sum of all its parts. An ecosystem behaves differently from its individual plant and animal components. We have thoughts in our minds that are more than the sum of all neuron activity. Society itself has certain properties that are more than the sum of the individuals; there is an agency that's bigger than us. In the same way, the technium will have a behavior that you're not going to find in your iPhone or your light bulb alone. The technium has far more agency than is suggested by the word culture.
And this ecosystem or technological super-organism is not random—which is controversial in the broader scientific community, but should not be in a theological framework. It has an agenda.
Is God guiding the progress of the technium as it unfolds?
I would definitely say that progress is a reflection of the divine.
What do you mean by that?
In the same way we would say the beauty of nature reflects God, the technium reflects something of God's character. Not that the technium is without blemish, because anything we invent can be weaponized and made evil. But overall the technium has a positive force, a positive charge of good. And that good is primarily measured in terms of the possibilities and choices it presents us with. That's the metric I use to measure goodness.
For instance, love is good. I define love as not just an emotion but an action that helps others achieve some possibility. By love we give people opportunities to express their unique set of God-given gifts. In a certain sense, if you had to objectively measure the love in someone's heart, what would that look like? I think it would look like increasing choices and possibilities for others.
While reading the book, I couldn't help thinking about Genesis 1:28, that God gives humans the opportunity to create beyond themselves, and that this is "very good," a part of what it means to bear the imago Dei.
Yes. God has given us free will—true free will, not a phantom free will—and he wants us to surprise him. We are here to surprise God. God could make everything, but instead he says, "I bestow upon you the gift of free will so that you can participate in making this world. I could make everything, but I am going to give you some spark of my genius. Surprise me with something truly good and beautiful." So we invent things, and God says, "Oh my gosh, that was so cool! I could have thought of that, but they thought of that instead."