Technological Fundamentalism: Faith in the Digital Age
Respond to mostly unfavorable letters regarding his writing on consumerism and new technologies, Wendell Berry writes: “I can only conclude that I have scratched the skin of a technological fundamentalism which, like other fundamentalisms, wishes to monopolize an entire society and, therefore, cannot tolerate the slightest difference of opinion. ” Then, with a charming irony, in a subsequent trial he adds: “Some of us, it seems, would be better off if we just realized that this is already the best of all possible worlds, and it will get even better if we just buy the right equipment. “
More than ever, we see the growing belief that technology will bring heaven to earth.
But the technological fundamentalism that Berry identified in the late 1980s pales in comparison to our current mood toward technology. More than ever, we see the growing belief that technology will bring heaven to earth.
Trust in technological progress
I addressed this fundamentalism years ago in a Publish explore the unshakeable belief that technological progress will inevitably triumph over all our economic, social and physical ills. Most of us regard technological innovation, in its various forms, as entirely good and devoted to improving human life. As Berry says, we all participate in this “sectarian” faith.
We are worshipers, believing that our digital deities will give us brighter futures, happier lives, and fewer problems. However, as Berry goes on to say, “The existence of the future is an article of faith.” This hope is therefore unfounded. The future does not exist. It won’t necessarily be better either. One need only recall the utopian optimism sustained by technological progress at the start of the 20th century, until the two bloodiest wars in history made this faith untenable.
Most view technological innovation as entirely good and devoted to improving human life.
Despite the common sense of Wendell Berry’s observations, almost all of us subscribe to a fundamentalist faith in technology. These beliefs are evangelistically preached by tech companies and their zealous consumers. From apps to new devices, we believe technology enriches life. And as Berry writes: “At the slightest hint of a threat to their complacency, they repeat, like a chorus of toads, the notes issued by their business leaders. The past was dark, painful, servile, meaningless and slow. The present, thanks to the only purchasable products, is significant, luminous, alive, centralized and fast. The future, thanks only to more purchasable products, will be even better.
Berry’s words are terribly prophetic, and therefore extremely relevant to those of us living in the digital age.
The digital trinity: smartphones, streaming and social media
None of us can imagine a world without smartphones, streaming services and social networks. Even though this digital trinity is less than 20 years old, we all believe that our lives are more “meaningful, bright, alive, centralized and fast” because of it. And, as Berry puts it, “thanks only to more buyable products,” the future “is going to be even better.”
We religiously believe that “purchasable products” will improve our lives.
The rate at which we replace our appliances proves Berry’s point. We religiously believe that “purchasable products” will improve our lives. The same can be said of the unprecedented amount of time we spend consuming media, scrolling through mostly nonsensical streams online, or passively allowing Netflix to play the next episode. Despite mounting evidence that these habits are harmful, few of us regularly disconnect from our technology or engage in social media and streaming fasts. We simply cannot abandon them, not even periodically. Our faith in technology has given way to adoration and devotion. “O Israel, here are your gods” (1 Kings 12:28).
A few final questions
Has the miraculous advent of the Infinite Scroll really enriched our souls?
Certainly, countless other posts could be written on this topic. So let me wrap this one up with a few questions that I hope will fuel further thought and perhaps interaction. Is the digital age as fulfilling, meaningful, happy and delightful as those profiting from its success claim? Has our faith – our devotion and almost religious worship – been rewarded? Has the miraculous advent of the Infinite Scroll really enriched our souls? Have the hours sacrificed on the altar of streaming services brought a blessing? Finally, isn’t it time to reconsider the dogmatic belief that these new technologies only make our lives better?