The Telos of Technology

“What is the goal of our technologies? What should be our goal? What is off limits and why? What is our operating definition of the good that we are pursuing through technology? Where is the uncrossable line between healing and enhancement, and what are the other proper limits of our technologies? What are people?” Maria Baer and John Stonestreet

Telos: Greek, (noun) the end term of a goal-directed process; esp. the Aristotelian final cause (the end result/purpose).

When my father was born in 1916, the first radio broadcast was still a dim hope, still four years off. KDKA in Pittsburgh wouldn’t transmit the first radio signals ever until 1920. Home ownership of telephones was still uncommon.

Now we carry devices that contain phones, radios, televisions, cameras, clocks, calculators, flashlights, information resources, and social media outlets.

Technology has come a long way since sliced bread and the assembly line.

During the 1990s, I took a college class called Science, Technology, and Society. The professor led multiple discussions of the telos of technology by asking the question, “Will people invent a technology they won’t use?”

Along with others, I asserted that our production of nuclear warheads was fulfilling its telos as a deterrent to nuclear war. We didn’t build bombs so we could use them. We built bombs hoping no one else would feel brazen enough to use theirs against us.

We didn’t think of the self-destructive “bombs” we were developing to finish ourselves off one at a time and with no beneficial result.

Take embryonic stem cell research, for example.

From Baer and Stonestreet:

“Historically, President Bush’s position on embryo-destructive research has been thoroughly vindicated. The additional funding committed to research into adult and induced pluripotent stem cells produced amazing medical breakthroughs. But none of the promises of embryonic stem cell therapies ever materialized, even after his Oval Office successor reversed Bush’s policies, rebuilt the Council around only scientists and medical researchers, and released enormous funding for embryo-destructive research,”

Additional funding. On and off over the years. But not a single benefit.

Harvesting humans. Reaping no benefits. Continuing to take lives and money to repeat the process.

Even if there were a benefit, I would still argue against this barbarity. How can we “benefit” from the death and destruction of innocents? We hope to gain healing for a physical body but harm eternal souls. We become less than we were, less than we can be, when we engage in such practices.

Technologies have good and bad ends. Even a bread slicer can produce a more usable and uniform product or a wounded worker. It’s all in how we use it and what the telos is.

We are letting the end we hope for overcome the meaning every human life always Contains. That purpose never involves becoming spare parts for someone else, directly by transplant or indirectly through research.

God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27, ESV

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

A Saving Light in the Darkness

“We came from Caladan–a paradise world for our form of life. There existed no need on Caladan to build a physical paradise or paradise of the mind–we could see the actuality all around us. And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life–we went soft, we lost our edge.” Frank Herbert, Dune~

Imagine spending your daylight hours–most of them in an eighteen-inch tunnel shoveling coal out of your space by hand. Your son stands ready to fill a large bin on wheels just outside the small tunnel. You both get paid for production–not time invested.

You also provide the fuel to warm the homes in your community and beyond.

Boys go to school until it’s time to go to the mines. They grow up and raise families. Sons in the mines, daughters in the kitchens–all working to make life better for the next ones coming. That is the story of the Arigna Coal Mine–now a tourist site–in Ireland.

I grew up in a railroad town near the heart of America’s coal country. I remember the strip mines dotting our rolling mountains. Now restored, the mountains appear never to have been mined.

Yet, mining still happens around us. As my husband and I drove across a bridge in town the other day, we saw a long line of rail cars all filled to the brim with coal.

Mining still happens, but it’s no longer a lone man picking and shoveling out a tiny tunnel.

When machines came to Arigna, they had the opposite effect of what we might expect. Today when we consider robotics and technology in the workplace, we calculate how many jobs will go by the wayside as machines replace workers.

When mining found technology, the industry needed more workers to haul the greater bounty out of the mountain. And since production increased, and since the workers earned through production, both jobs and earnings grew.

Yet in Arigna, one thing remained. And it resonates in my heart every time I ponder it.

When we entered the mine–now a large, reinforced tunnel to accommodate tourists rather than miners–there was a picture of Christ. The tour guide–at a government-funded site, mind you–explained that workers prayed as they began their shifts–prayed for safety–and God answered and blessed.

Our guide credited Christ as the “safety officer” of the mine that produced, first iron, then coal for more than 400 years. In 400 years of mining–with no safety agency overseeing operations until the 1980s–only one man died.*

I’ve pondered the faith and devotion of those miners since my visit to Arigna. And I’ve pondered the life of unimaginable (to me) work!

Like us, they were imperfect. They had conflicts with neighbors and petty jealousies.

They had unmet dreams. In the 1960s, they staged a strike that lasted several months.

Yet overall, they seemed to have a kind of satisfaction we lack today. Life was hard but good.

That’s an idea that seems so foreign to us. We do all we can to resist it. We work with the expectation that life will get better and better must mean easier and more prosperous. Easier and more prosperous came to the miners of Arigna through technology. But they never took the picture down of the One they believed kept them safe.

Life is hard. It’s easier and more prosperous for some. But there is meaning in difficulty. And the One who watched over the Arigna miners is faithful.

Photo Credit: RTE Archives, Arigna Mine

*One website asserts that “five or six died” over the years. Another says, “Accidents were few and far between.”

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How Much Tech Is Too Much?

Manhunt: Unabomber on Netflix is an excellent series about the search for Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Tightly woven storytelling, great performances, and an accurate, balanced rendering of Kaczynski’s story bring us to his purpose–even his prophecy–that technology binds us more than it frees us.
But his violence muted his message.
Kaczynski had been a math prodigy. He had not been a popular child in school. But because of his high intelligence (an IQ higher than that of Stephen Hawking), he moved up two grades. He suffered torment, partly because of his awkwardness, partly because children can be so cruel. Continue reading “How Much Tech Is Too Much?”

The Battle Against Noise

“Silence allows man to place himself joyfully at God’s disposal. It enables him to overcome the arrogant attitude that would claim that God is at the disposal of his children.” (Sarah 121 [230])
The battle is ongoing and almost universal.
We live noisy lives. And most of us don’t know how to find quiet contemplation–or even why we should try.
We dwell with noise all around us–and more importantly without internal silence.
The kind of silence that lets us connect to God. Continue reading “The Battle Against Noise”

Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option: A Review

“[T]he Benedict Option is a call to undertaking the long and patient work of reclaiming the real world from the artifice, alienation, and atomization of modern life. It is a way of seeing the world and of living in the world that undermines modernity’s big lie: that humans are nothing more than ghosts in a machine, and we are free to adjust the settings in any way we like.” Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (236).

If you’re a Christian, don’t read this book unless you are truly willing to face the deep realities that Rod Dreher presents within its pages.

But if you are a Christian, you really should read this book.

It will move you to change your life.

And you will find it is not the same book some critics have described.

The Benedict Option is not a call for the faithful to cloister ourselves in a monastery or don white robes and sit on a mountaintop awaiting the Apocalypse.

Dreher calls us to a more focused faith walk, to “be the church, without compromise, no matter what it costs” (3, emphasis Dreher’s).

He calls us to a deeper prayer life. A life steeped in community with other faithful Christians. A life that looks very different from the lives many of us lead–pursuit of consumerism and busy-ness with splashes of church sprinkled between. Continue reading “Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option: A Review”