Monday, 14 July 2014

Technology and Computers

I am writing this on a computer and you will be reading it on one too. In the course of your work you are probably using a computer for much of the time and, increasingly, your leisure hours will be spent looking at some form of computer. Life today is unthinkable without these machines which have conquered the world in an incredibly short space of time.  Many people may have reservations about certain aspects of the computer revolution but most still regard it as something whose advantages greatly outweigh its drawbacks. Here I'd like to act as devil's advocate. I think there is a case to be made that the computer and the technology associated with it are inherently anti-spiritual.

Of course, I’m not blind to the computer's many benefits, the ease of access to a seemingly limitless range of information, the speed of communication, the bringing together of physically separated like-minded individuals and so on. The computer would never have made such an impact if it had not opened up so many new opportunities, and there is no doubt that it has done so in virtually every field. All that is obvious. And yet there is a price to pay, and I am reminded of the remark made by Jesus that 'What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?' I realise that puts me in the corner marked for cranks, killjoys and Luddites, but I am not saying we should throw away our computers. Only that we should be alive to the threat they represent. They are a fact of the modern world but that shouldn't mean that we close our eyes to the potential dangers that come with them.

How is it that computers could cause you to lose your soul? I should say first of all that I don't mean this literally, but, figuratively speaking, I do mean it. What you lose is awareness of your soul. As you become more and more caught up in a virtual reality, as you become more absorbed by it, so you become more and more separated from your soul. The computer denatures life. It is the most significant advance yet of the machine and, as such, it points to the mechanisation of consciousness. It is that which will cause you to lose touch with your soul. The more you succumb to the lure of a computerised world, the more you will lose the connection to the mystery of the world that lies beyond form and quantity which is the world of materialistic science.

Advocates of modern technology like to say that it is neutral in itself. It is what you do with it that raises questions, moral questions, questions of philosophy and so on. But I think this is mistaken. The acceptance of the increasing dominance of technology in our lives is a psychological attitude and what that attitude indicates is an implicit belief in the superiority of the machine over nature. I don't think that technology is neutral or that it is just a means to an end which we may determine ourselves. I believe it to be an end in itself, and that end is the de-naturing of the world leading to the separation of man from God.

Don't write this off as the reaction of an hysterical alarmist. We have been told by someone who knew what he was talking about that you cannot serve God and Mammon, and I believe that to be literally true. Mammon is not just money. It represents everything that is of this world and what else is technology, the attempt to conquer nature by mechanical means, if not a thing of this world? I am not arguing for a return to the Stone Age (or even before that time since Stone Age man had axes and the like so had a technology of some kind), but for a proper understanding of the significance of what modern technology really is. I write this with no hope of appealing to anyone except the already converted, and with the full expectation that most people will reject it as nonsense. I would expect to be reminded of the countless lives that technology has saved and I obviously don't dismiss that as insignificant though I would say that we all die anyway and our state of mind at death is perhaps more important than how long we live. We live forever anyway. No, the many benefits of modern technology are undeniable. But to me what is also undeniable is that our growing addiction to it and dependence on it is robbing us of our ability to respond to the soul. And that means that our capacity to respond to real truth and real beauty, even, I would submit, real love, is much diminished. We are increasingly fobbed off with imitations and distortions of these things, and many of us don't even notice it though many do notice, even if only subliminally, resulting in feelings of discontent and pointlessness.

Maybe this is all meant to be as anything that can be must eventually work itself out in the external world. That doesn't mean it is a good thing, though, in the sense of something to be wholeheartedly embraced and regarded without circumspection just because it is an inevitable part of the world we live in and we must accept that world as it is. It might also represent a test for humanity to hold fast to a higher truth in the face of a sustained assault on the very notion of any such thing as a higher truth. One of the tasks of all those who value the spiritual is to call the world back to its source, to point out that it has lost its way and been bewitched by the spurious glamour of fake gold. Fake gold is everywhere these days and the only way to avoid being corrupted by its alluring sparkle is to see beyond appearance and hold fast to purity.

The computer may just be a tool but our minds tend to reflect the technologies they use and the limitations of these technologies become our own.

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