Dec 23, 2013

A Warning Against More Things

I highly recommend this essay I found recently: The Tyranny of Things.  Though it was written in the late 19th century there is much wisdom here.  It seems particularly relevant now as matrialism so engulfs our culture and hearts during the "gift giving season."  In short, it shows us that more posessions lead to more trouble and anxiety rather than less, though the latter is our hope.

Aug 20, 2013

My Dad, 1947-2013

My dad died just over three weeks ago.  He was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in 2008 and I am grateful he lived to see and enjoy my children and to give away my sister at her wedding.  Progressively more technology was invested in him in these past five years.  He moved from a cane to a walker and eventually to an electric wheelchair.  Each of these helped him maintain his ability to move from place to place.  To transport him in the wheelchair, my parents acquired a minivan fitted with a ramp so mom could drive him to doctor's appointments and to get a haircut.  As his hands grew weaker, he used a fork and spoon with large rubber grips to eat.  Dad eventually needed a CPAP to help him breathe.  Near the end he had a catheter.  He had a hospital bed that could raise and lower his head or legs.  The controls had large buttons he could still use himself.  I don't know all the medications he was taking, but there seemed to be more of them every few months. 

I would like to say thank you to the engineers, researchers, doctors, and technicians that invented and provided all this technology to make my dad more comfortable and let him take part in our family life for a bit longer.  You did something good and these things were a blessing to our family.  I had the time to talk with him, watch my kids play with him, and hear him tell me he was proud of me.  The day before he died, I got to sit with him and hold his hand while he drifted back to sleep.  I could feel those hands that I once thought so big and strong and believed they could fix anything; that day, they barely gripped mine in their weakness.  To those that made all this technology, please keep it up as there are many other families that suffer with someone with ALS and countless other diseases that you can help alleviate.

But one thing that my dad and our whole family can clearly see is that technology cannot really save us.  It may hide the pain and slow the progression of a disease.  It may make you mobile and comfortable for longer.  But it cannot and will not stop death for any of us.  Technology can be used for great good, but we must all face death.

It is far more important to be prepared for death and God's judgment.  My dad knew this too.  He believed in Christ as his savior.  He had served as both deacon and elder in various churches.  He made sure we were regular in worship.  The church was packed, so many people came to his funeral. A few men I don't know from my parent's church introduced themselves to me and shared about the joy it was to get to know my dad in his last few years.  Dad finished well.

For my part, I hope to remember these things as I "do technology," that I would design in the Good for others in the technology I make.  But more importantly, I hope to point my family and those around me beyond the technology and other things that cannot save, to the God who hates our sins and provides His own Son to take the punishment for those sins that we may be forgiven and adopted.  That is a far greater thing than all the technology in the world.  My dad knew that and taught me the same.

Jun 19, 2013

Articles on the Down Side of Technology

Here are a couple articles I saw recently related to technology and the church.

Why I Object to Screen Preaching - This gets into some good and bad reasons to object to preaching via screen, particularly the "multi-campus" model you see now.

Is Our Trust in Technology Trumping Our Natural Instincts? - Short, but makes you think about how interesting mistakes and spontaneity can be lost when we rely on our gadgets.

When We Hate What We Love - The title doesn't really match the point, which is our technology only draws out what was already in us.  More technology or less don't really change the core of who we are.

Scholars Sound the Alert From the 'Dark Side' of Tech Innovation - Though it rambles a bit, this article covers a conference this past May about the downsides of current technological innovations.

Jun 6, 2013

Why Does a Lack of Technology Surprise Us?

Recently my son asked me what online games I played when I was young.  I wish I had a picture of his face when I told him that such a thing didn't exist when I was growing up.  He had a mixture of surprise and amazement to think someone lived without this experience.  I explained I had stand-alone games (and got nostalgic for Sierra on-line and Lucasarts) like Minecraft, so I wasn't completely deprived.

This made me think about how I react to hearing stories of people with less technology than I have.  You might think of the Amish who choose this path, or stories from missionaries in far-flung places where even clean drinking water is scarce, or just back to the 1960's when we went to the moon on computers that are colossally out of date compared to a modern laptop.  I react the same way my son did: surprise, perhaps a bit of shock that whole groups of people do without the technology I have.

Why is that?  Why surprise?  I'd like to suggest two reasons.

One may be our cultural immersion.  We're so immersed in our own culture and the technology in it that we have difficulty even seeing the technology - it becomes invisible.  Most people in our culture have refrigerators and cell phones, so we don't think about it.  However, when they're gone we're surprised by the things that are suddenly visible by their absence.

Another, related reason may be our assumption of necessity of a particular technology.  We assume that we need a car, a grocery store, a refrigerator, etc. to be able to have eggs.  Not really.  A family in our church has a chicken coop and they have to give away eggs they get so many.  Or think of GPS systems in cars.  Maps and street signs lasted us several decades for navigation on the road.  If we haven't thought it through or seen otherwise, we may not realize that a certain technology isn't necessary and the same task can be done in another way.  Or, maybe that task isn't even necessary!

What about you?  Do you have a different reaction to a lack of technology?  Why?

Jun 4, 2013

Feel the need for digital detox?

I saw this article that describes a Digital Detox camp for adults. No cell phones, tablets, etc. and no talking about work.  Instead, the campers participate in essentially Boy Scout camp activities (though the reference to the 70's seems odd, considering it sounds like the camping experience my son and I shared just a few weeks ago).

Interesting quote:
"When you were a kid, your life was not dominated by the technology that it is now," he said. "We want to take people back to that easy state of living where their only concern is 'what's the next activity that I'm going to right now and what's going to be the next fun thing?'"
I take a little exception to this because our lives have been surrounded by technology for a long time.  However, I also take his point about being surrounded by screens & digital technology.   That technology demands (and gets) our attention and much of it is designed to automatically entertain us.  I think this kind of week fights against a couple things: mediated connections we think we have on social media, thinking "fun" can best be had via a relatively passive experience with a screen, and an attachment to work that eats into other parts of our lives.

Our family is going on vacation soon and we're going to leave the laptop & iPads behind.  I know we'll struggle with that, but we're taking board games and books and will hopefully remember how to have fun together without our screens in between us.

May 25, 2013

What Is a Technologist's Responsibility After the Product Is Sold?

Go read this article on Wired: Alfred Anaya Put Secret Compartments in Cars. So the DEA Put Him in Prison.  This gets at the heart of a question I've mulled over for some time.  What is the moral responsibility of someone that designs and/or builds a technology once it is purchased by the customer?

To summarize my position, the designer and builder must make a good quality product, well suited to it's purpose, and the purpose must be for good and within moral boundaries God has given us.  In this view, the designer & builder are responsible if those become clearly not true after the sale.

However, this article is about Alfred Anaya who made custom secret compartments in cars, that at least some customers used to smuggle drugs.  He was eventually convicted of federal crimes and is in jail for decades - much longer than those that actually ran the drug ring.  He never ran drugs himself, nor saw them, but saw a large stash of cash one time in a secret compartment he was repairing.

The legal issues aside for the moment, what is the moral aspect of this?  In general, I think the technologist cannot control whether someone uses their product for good or evil.  I can imagine many scenarios where I would like a hidden compartment in my car. Any technology can be used for evil, so the technologist cannot possibly design out all evil potential.  The only other criteria I can see where he may have failed is to do technology within moral boundaries.  Apparently, compartments like the ones he built are popular among drug runners.  Should he have gotten out of that business because some customers may be using them for illegal activities?  Sould he have kept a customer receipt that he submitted to police every now and then?  Should he be responsible even when he only suspects someone of running drugs and risks carges of a false report himself?  Are there legitimate, good reasons for someone to install one of these in their car?  Yes, and on that basis I think this is a bad prescedent.

Agree or disagree?