Reflection as technological practice

For many of us, technology, and the adoption of new technologies, is something that simply happens to us; a new phone, or drug, or television, or app arrives in the marketplace and we find ourselves, often under the influence of (pervasive) advertising, being drawn into its orbit. With a force like gravity the new device pulls us in. Too often, we don’t stop and reflect on our new technological friend, and what she represents. Many times, a new technology is a new way of being in the world, a way of being with consequences, and not all of them positive.

It is useful, I think, to see technologies in this way: not as simple means to an end (the phone as a communication device, the suburban house as shelter, the car as transportation,) but as things that pattern our lives.

Which is why it is so important to reflect upon on technological choices, and not simply be accept the new as the ever-young and desirable default. I think it is important, when confronted with a new technology, to ask a simple set of questions, that allow for this kind of reflection:

1. How does this technology affect my mental and emotional well-being?
2. How does this technology affect my body?
3. What effects does this technology have on my community and the larger environment?
4. What effect(s) does this technology have on my financial well-being?
5. Are there alternatives?
6. Am I better off without it?

In a world with a bewildering number of choices, choices that give rise to the patterns that shape our lives, these questions are vitally important. If you aren’t asking them, you are not in conscious control of your decisions.

For these reasons, I see the groups like the Amish as being among the most technologically savvy people on the planet, if only because, when faced with technological choices, they reflect upon them, they deliberate. Their choices are intentional, and they understand clearly that new technologies (like phones, grid-tied electrical power, the automobile, television) carry with them ways of living. Phones may inspire gossip, television can be seen (accurately, for the most part) as a cultural sewer, and dependency on the electrical grid may run counter to an ethic of self-sufficiency, and so on.

Contrary to what is often believed about such groups (which would include certain other Anabaptist sects including the Mennonites and Hutterites) they do not dismiss new technologies out of hand, and in fact they may be seen, at times, “leapfrogging” decades of technological development (for example, some conservative Amish groups may disdain the automobile, and refuse to use grid-tied electricity, but wholeheartedly adopt solar energy; in fact most of the Amish in the Midwest use photovoltaic solar panels.)

In the case of the Anabaptists, their reflective practice may include the question of whether or not a technology allows them to become closer to God and to live better lives as devout and pious Christians. But you need not subscribe to any religious ideology to see the value of the process: thinking about these ideas gives you more control, and perhaps more opportunities to improve the circumstances of your life.

Consider this a call for reflection, chance to step back and ask yourself: do I need this? Is this making my life better, or not?