A conversation with a friend this morning reminded me how “wired” I am. I am so reliant on “smart” things, but I have NO idea how any of them works. If one malfunctions – well, remember HAL in 2001?
Take the other night: Doug wanted to know if I heard a buzzing.
We walked around the house, putting our ears up to the microwave, freezer, refridge . . . we even opened the back door to listen to the AC unit. Finally, I listened to my purse and drew out my phone, which was trembling – no kidding – and emitting an annoying buzz. I couldn’t turn it on to diagnose the issue – it reminded me of when one our kids were sick, and before they were old enough to tell me where it hurt.
Was the battery low?
I plugged it in. No response, only buzzing. Doug nestled it within a dishtowel to deaden its persistent din. An hour later, it was still complaining and I wanted to go to bed.
Should I leave it plugged in?
What if a low battery was not the issue, and keeping it connected to a power source would fuel an explosion?
I remembered computer batteries can set a computer on fire –or something to that effect. So, I unplugged the phone, still kept it wrapped up, and set beside the front door. Yes, I did – that way the firemen could easily find the source of the fire that might consume us in the night. Just enough knowledge to be useless!
No such flare-up disturbed us. By the morning – the phone indicated to Doug its battery was low. So, I plugged it in and within an hour, all was well. I still don’t know exactly why the phone, which I thought was charged 65%, went nuts.
So, although I don’t exactly why or how any of my electronic devices do anything, these conveniences have become oh so necessary for comfort and amusement, and community. And I am not alone. The world is as dependent on invisible power, most of us cannot comprehend, for our entire well-being.
Consider our responses when we misplace a remote control, or the smart technology guiding our lives fails. If I am not tearing the couch apart, looking for the control, I am yelling at a recording patiently asking me who I am, where I am, and in a word describe my problem. Or, I have just disconnected myself from its probing questions, or any possibility of solving the problem my smart appliance has dropped in my lap.
Am I behaving toward the increasingly ubiquitous technology the way anti-theists react to God?
. . . Many smart technologies are heading in another, more disturbing direction. A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. Sometimes this will be a nudge; sometimes it will be a shove. But the central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering. (Is Smart Making Us DUMB?)
When people get angry at God, or with the idea of God it is often because He’s laid out some game-changers for our conduct. Most who resist the God of Scripture have heard about Him, but not studied His word. It’s up to Christians to be the closest thing to the Bible the world may see – and we aren’t always so great at doing this. But, perhaps the warning in the Wall Street Journal piece mentioned above can apply to us?
Truly smart technologies will remind us that we are not mere automatons who assist big data in asking and answering questions. Unless designers of smart technologies take stock of the complexity and richness of the lived human experience—with its gaps, challenges and conflicts—their inventions will be destined for the SmartBin of history.
Unless we see the humanity in those with whom we differ, and until we learn to speak the language, and feel the pain, of this generation, we may be like I was: hearing a buzz, feeling the tremble, being terrified I could be harmed in the encounter – but not having a clue how to be useful.