Life Without Limits

My primary complaint against technology is the temptation it offers for us to live life without limits and boundaries, especially when it comes to the consumption of information. The endless stream of articles, music, podcasts, blogposts, news, tweets, email, etc. via the web, for example, is simply more than we can handle. Technology isn’t necessarily bad; in fact, a lot of good has come out of it. But it’s simply more than we can handle. The warning in Ecclesiastes (“To the making of books there is no end, and too much reading is a weariness of the flesh.”) is applicable not only to the reading of books. Three authors who have helped me gain a more balanced perspective on technology vis-a-vis life are Wendell Berry, Schumacher, and Thomas Merton. I could also add Thoreau. The lessons I’ve learned from them are: the importance of being bound to a particular place, keeping things small, and keeping things simple; i.e., to live life within limits. “Man is small, therefore, small is beautiful.” (Schumacher)

The Technological Society

Jacques Ellul (author of The Technological Society) wrote the following around 50 years ago:

But man himself is overpowered by technique [read: technology] and becomes its object. The technique which takes man for its object thus becomes the center of society; this extraordinary event… is often designated as technical civilization… Technical civilization means that our civilization is constructed by technique (makes a part of civilization only what belongs to technique), for technique (in that everything in this civilization must serve a technical end), and is exclusively technique (in that it excludes whatever is not technique or reduces it to technical form)… Today technique has taken over the whole of civilization.

That was Ellul’s observation around 50 years ago. And to think that there was no internet, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Skype, no email, no cellphones, no laptops then! His words ring even truer today. Technology is all around us. We are drowning in it. We have become so habituated, dependent and enslaved to it that without it our lives are paralyzed. In technology we live, and move, and have our being.

Is Reading Better Than Listening or Watching?

Neurological studies show that, as we learn to read, our brains undergo extensive cellular changes that allow us to decipher the meaning of words with breathtaking speed and enormous flexibility. By comparison, gathering information through audio and video media is a slow and cumbersome process.

– Nicholas Carr in “The Rapid Evolution of Text”