The most important writing on technology takes place in the middle of major technological shifts. Before the new trends become so normal that questions are no longer asked and protests no longer raised, we need the perspectives of parents watching their kids adopt technologies barely conceivable in the days of their own childhood.
With the dawn of the digital age, a major technological shift is currently underway. Those of us who can still recall the pre-Internet dark ages need to be making observations and taking notes. If you once brought home a bulky answering machine from Radio Shack, created documents by way of typewriters, or enjoyed nightly entertainments in the glow of a cathode ray, then we need your wisdom: How is digital technology shaping and modifying society and culture?
More importantly, how is this new media culture, so in love with the little letter "i," informing our ideas about God and faith?
Craig Detweiler addresses these questions in his latest book, iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives. Though a tech-savvy communications professor at Pepperdine University, Detweiler remembers life before iPads, iPhones, Google searches, tweets, and status updates. He is among a growing number of Christian writers trying to assay the effects of the digital age by keeping a sharp eye on the technological transitions from clunky machines to gleaming handheld devices, from no Internet to Web 2.0 and beyond.
Detweiler expresses interest in "forging a theology of technology." What iGods provides, however, is not so much a Christian theology of technology but a Christian assessment of technology's theology.
Yes, technology can voice theological agendas. Though our modern scientific era may seem nonreligious (and even anti-religious at times), secular society often appeals to religious language when describing digital technology. Even though much of this spiritualized rhetoric is caricatured and tongue-in-cheek, it has a considerable impact on contemporary discourse. Opening a brand new package from the Apple Store can be portrayed as a sublime experience of worship. Surfing the Web can seem like an out-of-body ascent. Clicking Google's search button feels like consulting an all-knowing oracle. Tweets can be prophetic and status updates confessional. The release of Steve Jobs's "Jesus-Phone" was hailed as apocalyptic, and Jobs himself became iconic even before his untimely death. As Detweiler puts it, "technology has become an alternative religion. It has distinct values, celebrated saints, and rites of passage."
As media users, we need to acknowledge the possibility that these new technologies and their makers can demand an allegiance as totalizing as religious faith. In turn, our enthusiasm over the wonders they produce can translate into pious devotion. For these reasons, an uncritical embrace of digital culture and an unchecked loyalty to its values could constitute idolatry toward the "iGods."