Technology and the Church
I hear a lot of complaints these days about the negative impact of technology on human relationships. I have critiques of my own,and am typically the last person among my friends to welcome a new social technology into my life (even then, I usually rely on others to teach me how it works). Yet the more grudgingly I tend to be about signing up for an app or downloading an update, the more grateful I tend to be for the time it saves me, the entertainment it brings me, or the distraction it offers from what tends to be a very stressful grad school life-schedule. On long drives home from school, Siri reads me pdf's of papers for research (in her characteristic monotone and with all metadata included!); Uber has gotten me places I needed to go—and on time!—after accidentally locking my keys and wallet inside the house; long distance friends and I frequently "have coffee" over Skype or Facetime; I would be lost without Google Maps.
Voicing the negative without acknowledging the positive seems, to me, a rather lazy or shortsighted way to view the encroachment of technology into our private, social, academic, and political lives. But what of our spiritual lives?
As one of the writers for this Fall edition of G&N has written, most of the pastoral advice out there regarding use of personal technologies seems to share a certain prescriptive theme: Try turning off your devices and screens for a while. Slow down. Go for a walk. This advice certainly appeals to me even if I don't always follow it. But are there other ways of considering the impact of technology on Christian churches and spiritual relationships?
This season, I am excited to bring to God & Nature readers not just an excellent collection of essays on technology and the church, but indeed, several helpful frameworks for talking productively about technology with our friends, family, and fellow parishioners. As neuroethicist Gareth Jones reminds us, it is not good enough for Christians to eschew novel technologies, then offer reactive, ill-considered sentiments about their moral or biblical allow-ability once they are already here. Our faith is personal but it is also communal; I hope this topical issue of G&N will help bring forth many more conversations about technology and its impact on our lives.
Emily Ruppel is a PhD student in communication at the University of Pittsburgh, with focus areas in rhetoric of science, bioethics, STS, feminist theory, and oral history.
Prior to her doctoral work, Emily studied poetry at Bellarmine University in Louisville (B.A. '08) and science writing at MIT (M.S. '11). She has also spent many years working as a professional writer and editor for academic and popular outlets; among them, God & Nature magazine is a favorite project.