The Allure of New Innovations
Technology may appear strong, but it is weak—too weak to satisfy the desires inside of humanity. When Carl Sagan finished mapping out a multiplanetary possibility for the survival of humanity, he warned that we might be safe from the demise of this planet, but we would never be safe from ourselves. We humans carry within us a propensity for self-destruction—on earth, Mars, or whatever planet we choose next. “If we become even slightly more violent, shortsighted, ignorant, and selfish than we are now,” he warned, “almost certainly we will have no future.”1 We are selfish. We are not easily satisfied, certainly not by our technologies.
Ephemeral things are shinier than eternal things, and new innovations are always more alluring than old insights. Microprocessors and smartphones expand what it means to be human. Tools teach us more about ourselves and help us express ourselves more fully. Tech tools are not like wrenches and hammers we use for limited purposes; they are tools of self-discovery and self-expression. Our most powerful tools expand our lives, our aspirations, and even our loves. But as we embrace new possibilities, we are also left with a huge new dilemma.
The spiritual dilemma of the tech age is deep because our modern economy is built on the false promise that new innovations are the key to satisfying the heart’s longings. “If we are honest, we must admit that one aspect of the ceaseless upgrades and eternal becoming of the technium is to make holes in our heart,” Kevin Kelly admits. We are made discontent by design. “One day not too long ago we (all of us) decided that we could not live another day unless we had a smartphone; a dozen years earlier this need would have dumbfounded us,” he writes. “Now we get angry if the network is slow, but before, when we were innocent, we had no thoughts of the network at all. We keep inventing new things that make new longings, new holes that must be filled.” Technological discontent is not dehumanizing, he says; it’s human-enlarging. Our new tools make us more of who we are. They expand us. But by expanding us, they pull open more new holes to be filled. “The momentum of technologies pushes us to chase the newest, which are always disappearing beneath the advent of the next newer thing, so satisfaction continues to recede from our grasp.” So what is the solution? In the end Kelly turns to the technium to “celebrate the never-ending discontentment that technology brings,” because this “discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth.”2
New tech innovation is triggered by the discontent within us. We are never satisfied, always searching, always willing to adopt new tech in the pursuit of self-fulfillment that never comes. It’s heartbreaking to see an honest man reckon with the disappointments of tech. Every new gift of innovation promises to make more of us, but in that promise we get poked with new holes of neediness that must be perpetually filled with more tech putty. More tech adoption means more needs, more holes, less fulfillment, and more need for more tech adoption. Tech stocks feed off this dissatisfaction, but for the human soul this is a nightmarish projection from the pages of Ecclesiastes. Innovations leave us dry because they intentionally ignore God. And any scientific or technological endeavor that attempts to leave God out “becomes its own opposite, and disillusions everyone who builds his expectations on it.”3 The disappointments of the technoverse prove this over and over. We’ve now seen this tech disillusionment twice in history, at the close of the nineteenth century and inside twenty-first-century Silicon Valley. This disenchantment will always be there. Two concurrent evils always subvert man’s happiness: first, forsaking God as our all-satisfying “fountain of living waters,” and, second, replacing him with some newfangled human-engineered promises that cannot rise higher than “broken cisterns,” tanks full of unpatchable holes that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13).
Tech Is Never Enough
When we seek happiness in the latest tech feat of man, we must first assume (knowingly or not) that God is not enough. Our latest gadget promises to complete us. But God knows that it won’t. We are eternal souls who cannot be satisfied in the ambitions of man. God knows this, and he subverted the false promises of the Gospel of Technology from the start. You can fill your heart with man-made replacements for God, but they will never be enough. You can chase after the next tool or the newest innovative power or the newest augmentation or for the next frontier in space exploration. But if you are doing these things to satisfy your heart, you’ll be stopping holes with Silly Putty.
Our latest gadget promises to complete us. But God knows that it won’t.
Technologies are wonderful. The potent computer chip changes everything. The power of digital cameras is spellbinding. The smartphone is stunning. The Internet that joins together Christians from across the globe is remarkable. Space travel that expands what we know about the universe is breathtaking. Medical advances, like the end of polio and the end of cancer and the end of dementia and the end of genetic defects—should we see these victories—would be astounding, and we would give God all the glory for creating minds to address these problems. But Christians must always return to the issue of trust. The same bucket of tar can be used to build our trust in God or to build towers of unbelief.
Wise living in the tech age is not settled by Christians who ignore material possibilities, nor by the technologists who dismiss spiritual wonders. Wisdom begins in fear and is expressed in gratitude. Can I—in good conscience—thank God for an innovation? The ethics of what is permissible or forbidden is rooted in gratitude. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5). This holds true for barbecue and marriage and smartphones and medical advances. If we can honestly thank God for it, we can adopt it. God-centered gratitude gives us faith to see that only Christ can fill the holes in our souls. Christ is the secret to thriving in the age of AI, autonomous robots, and anti-aging advances. Joy in Christ teaches us to be thankful for the innovations we need and content without the ones we don’t.
- Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 329.
- Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (New York: Penguin, 2017), 11–12.
- Bavinck, Wonderful Works of God, 4.
This article is adapted from God, Technology, and the Christian Life by Tony Reinke.
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