Detweiler: Taming the Electronic Beast

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Craig Detweiler. 2013.  iGods:  How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives.  Grand Rapids:   Brazos Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Technology has defined my career.  During my career as an economist, I went from adding row and column sums with a manual calculator to programming with computer punch cards to programming personal computers for Windows and super computers in half a dozen languages. Being an early adopter of a variety of technologies allowed me to be the first to make sense of massive amounts of data.  Now, social media is redefining how work gets done and how people think about themselves, the world, and even God.  So when I noticed that Craig Detweiler had taken time to write a book, iGods, that tried to make sense of these changes, I was intrigued and ordered a copy.

Detweiler observes:  Jesus was more than a carpenter; he was a techie (23). The Greek word, τέκτων (Mark 6:3 BNT), usually translated as carpenter probably better describes a builder. Think about it. Palestine has a lot of deserts and rocks; it has very few trees—the primary input in carpentry.  Detweiler observes that Jesus does not talk about carpentry; most of his stories are not even about agriculture.  His stories are about winepresses, millstones, olive presses, tombstones, cisterns, and so on—the technologies of his era (24).  He talked about the things that he knew best.  Detweiler prefers the translation, artisan.

Like father like son.  God created the heavens and the earth bringing order to chaos (Genesis 1).  Bringing order to chaos is exactly what technology does.  Creation is marked by both order and by beauty.  Do you suppose creation is “state of the art”? (25)  If we are created in the image of ‘high tech” God, then does our fascination with technology reflect God’s presence among us? [1]

Are you intrigued yet?

Detweiler focuses on the persons, the technologies, and companies responsible for the social media revolution writing in 8 chapters, proceeded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion.  The 8 chapters are:

  1. Defining technology,
  2. Apple,
  3. A brief history of the internet,
  4. Amazon,
  5. Google,
  6. A brief history of social networking,
  7. Facebook,
  8. You Tube, Twitter, Instagram (v).

These new technologies are intrinsically more complex than even the personal computers that we are all familiar with.  Changing the battery in an iPhone, for example, requires special tools and a detailed list (8 or more steps) of instructions which, ironically, can be found more easily on YTube.com than in any manual. This complexity relegates us to the role of consumers rather than masters of the basic technologies of our age (25).  It is WALL-E (a garbage-compacting robot), not the morbidly obese Captain McCea of the spaceship Axiom, who is the hero of our age [2].

Detweiler is the author of numerous books and director of numerous films (http://bit.ly/1d7lWx8). He has his doctoral degree from Fuller Theological Seminary (www.fuller.edu) and currently is a professor of communications and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media, and Culture at Pepperdine University (http://bit.ly/1ebWAOn) which is located in Malibu, CA.  Because Hollywood has been at the cutting edge of both changing technology and social trends, just the Malibu address suggests that he might have some interesting insights.

Detweiler’s iGods is accessible, thoroughly researched, and fascinating to read.  He concludes that social media provide tools that redefines many of the assumptions of how we live, think, and work that are neither intrinsically good or bad.  In terms of the scientific method, Detweiler has moved discussion from focusing on felt needs to defining the scope of the social media problem [3].  In the midst of chaotic social and technological change, the task of problem definition is typically the hardest. Detweiler has done us a great service.  This is a book that smart people will notice.

[1] For years I have described scientific discovers as nothing more than God’s little Easter Eggs hidden in places where he knew his kids would find them.

[2] Pixar Film 2008.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WALL-E.

[3] The steps often employed in the scientific method are:  felt need, problem definition, observation, analysis, decision, and responsibility bearing.   Stephen W. Hiemstra. June 2009. “Can Bad Culture Kill a Firm?” pages 51-54 of Risk Management.  Society of Actuaries.  Accessed: 18 February 2014. Online:  http://bit.ly/1cmnQ00.

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