Big Tech Wants to Own You
Of course, they would never say it that way. They might say they’re striving to make life better, to streamline our efforts, make us more efficient, and allow more time for what is truly meaningful. Yet, why are we more addicted to technology than ever? Why is much of technology keeping us from what matters most?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some definite benefits to technology. I appreciate the fact that I am writing this article on a MacBook Pro with word processing, access to the internet, and automatic spell-check rather than on parchment and a quill pen. It is God’s will for us to take the raw materials He gave us and use them to create things that contribute to human flourishing.
Although, divorced from God’s call, our efforts are vain conceit, an attempt to overthrow God’s sovereignty and place ourselves on the throne as supreme rulers of our lives. This is the deeply rooted, sinful desire in each of our hearts, to be our own God (Jeremiah 17:9). Technology appeals to this desire in very alluring ways.
I recently read a great New York Times article entitled, “The Tyranny of convenience,” which captured this idea beautifully. The author, Tim Wu, discusses the powerful role convenience is playing in our 21st century lives.
Wu says, “Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.”
Technology is rapidly integrating itself in our lives in such a way that gives us the illusion of supremacy over our life.
Cars are designed around the driver’s experience, Google acts as our own personal counselor, available to answer our most pressing questions at any moment. Sites like Amazon and Netflix anticipate what we want before we know we want it, and news feeds are personalized to our preferences.
In his book, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, Franklin Foer makes the compelling argument that these tech companies are threatening our sense of self by integrating us into their system through the commandeering of our attention. They demand our attention so that they get to know us better than we know ourselves, anticipating our wants and needs before we are even aware of them.
If we’re not careful we may find that technology has automated us! As Christians, the danger lurking is in the temptation of replacing God with technology as the sovereign force in our lives.
Embracing God’s Sovereignty
As parents, my wife and I take care of all our son’s needs. Food, shelter, clothing, we are responsible for providing these. Thankfully, we’ve been blessed to provide much more than just his basic needs – like 5,000 stuffed animals. Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration, but that’s how many it feels like! We had to implement a rule that every time he gets a new stuffed animal another must go.
Grandma doesn’t always play by the rules though. I often find new stuffed animals smuggled into his room. It feels like we’re battling with the plush cartel. I digress.
In a sense, we are sovereign over our son’s life because he is dependent on us to provide everything he needs. We also have a certain amount of control over what he does and when he does it.
God is also sovereign over our lives. Although with God there are no limits to His rule in this world. Also, unlike us, He is never out of control, taken aback, frustrated, or helpless. He is never overwhelmed or surprised by the exorbitant amount of stuffed animals in my son’s room.
As the Orchard Hill’s Statement of Faith says, “God works all things according to His divine counsel and free will. He is just in His judgments, hates all sin, forgives iniquity and rewards those who seek Him.”
Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, we don’t trust God and we constantly question His character. We foolishly strive to assert sovereignty over our own lives and are often rudely awakened when things fall apart as a result.
Genesis 11 records the intentions of Noah’s offspring who undertook the project of building the tower of Babel. They said,
“Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” (Verse 4)
These people took matters into their own hands. They did not trust in God and they wanted nothing less than control and sovereignty over their own destiny. They took a new technology, the brick, and used it for their own glory in hopes of making their name great.
In response to their sinful arrogance, God confused their speech, creating the different languages of the world, and forcing them to cease construction of the city. He did this to accomplish His will, to spread them throughout the world.
In the very next chapter of Genesis, we see God’s sovereignty at work in a new way – one that has great ramifications for people of faith. God calls Abraham, saying:
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2)
Though he was as sinful as the rest of us, Abraham chose to trust in the sovereignty of God, and as a result He was exalted for God’s redemptive purposes.
The truth that these two stories in Genesis teaches us, is that we can either attempt to make our own name great and try to find significance apart from God, or we can inherit our sense of significance and identity from Him. Whether we like it or not, God is sovereign, and He will accomplish His redemptive purposes through us, or in spite of us.
Technology is a great gift but it must not supplant God’s sovereignty in our lives. We can’t allow inventions of our own creation to blind us to our need for God.
In the next installment I’ll discuss how technology has impacted our trust in one another, and in God. Until then, do you feel the pull of technology to be sovereign over your life? How have you responded?