Lesson 1: Technology and Culture

technology and societyA member of our Science, Technology, and Society group from South Korea mused that he belonged to three different cultures during his lifetime. The first was the traditional Korean in which he grew up, the second was American after the war in 1953, and the third was the technological in recent decades.

He argued technology replaced traditional cultures. The shared meaning and values that formerly united communities became irrelevant. The only thing binding people together was the national state; the only value was technique, defined as the most efficient way to get what you want, and the only common hope was economic growth and scientific discovery. All other concerns were disregarded and relegated to personal choice.

Others in our group hesitated to see the technological society as a culture. They felt cultures provided stories, customs, values, and practices that defined what is true, good, and beautiful for a community. They spoke of the central role played by language, literature, and the arts in doing this and often mentioned the Bible and Shakespeare. In their minds, modern technology destroyed culture, leaving the individual to choose what had meaning and value for his or her everyday life.

In both cases, the loss of a shared story and values promoted a radical individualism in which each person had to seek out others who shared their views. Often, this was done online. The result was deep societal divisions in which groups compete and even war against each other. The situation leaves individuals vulnerable to autocrats willing to manipulate them.

Our technological society appears to have given up on the possibility of a “common sense” to achieve the “common good” based on shared meanings and values. It extolls instead its ability to offer the freedom to choose among many options.

This is of great concern for Christians. Traditional Western culture was based on Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Judeo-Christian religion. All three have limited regard in the modern technological society. Their loss makes personal relationships difficult, because there are few shared guidelines for relating to other people in the everyday world.

I plan to examine how modern technology has affected traditional culture in the coming weeks. It will involve looking at what is gained and what is lost living in this electronic age. Community, especially Christian community, will be given special attention. In some sense, I will be bringing up to date studies my son and I made on electronic communities decades ago. I think this is very, very important. It offers all sorts of insights into the troubling situation in which we find ourselves.

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  1. paul wildman says:

    Very important upcoming Lesson Pr Foltz.

    I suggest we recognise social technology as equally important, if not more, as computer technology. The latter is being naturalised as the first one invisibilised – as (y)our Korean colleague indicated. It is the former that holds the latter together unless of course we end up with a dystopian AI driven big brother social credit system. Family, friendship, friends, community, village economy, intentional communities NGOS (this group), the commons, social enterprise etc. are all components of social technology.

    Congrats on having this as a Lesson topic for us and i look forward to your upcoming lessons on Tech. I hope these generate a heap of discussion.

    ciao paul


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