Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013), 246 pages. Endnotes and an index.
This is an enlightening book. A substantial part of the book is an overview of the rise of computer giants in the internet age. But as the history of these organizations (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and a few others) are discussed, the author delves into the social and theological implications of this shift in technology. Detweiler does not condemn the rapid advance in technology nor does he just focus on the negative side of the internet. He celebrates the positive impact of much of this technology and how it helps us handle the vast amount of information available. He reminds us that God was the first technological genius when, at creation, he brought order into the chaos (something the Google does with every search). Using a Greek word study of tekton (the word translated as carpenter in the New Testament), Detweiler reminds us that Jesus was essentially involved in the technology of his age. We’re not to be afraid of technology. Yet, at the same time, he feels a need to put the “iGods” in their proper place. He reminds his readers of their purpose and limitations. Although we have a tendency to place “blind trust” in technology, we must remember that our trust and faith belong to another realm.
Detweiler, in digging into the human call in Genesis to “cultivate,” reminds us of our need to organize. Our use of technology is linked to our calling by God. But we have to be careful. Thanks to the iPhone, as one of Detweiler’s sources points out, “we have evolved from a culture of instant gratification to one of constant gratification.” Today, we’re “tempted to relate to the iPhone rather than the world.” (65) Have we replaced God with Google’s algorithms? Will “I’ll google it” replace “I’ll pray about it”? (117) Can we really trust Google when our own search history leads to “confirmation bias” and our self-selecting of friends on Facebook supports our own ideas about the world. In this manner, instead of this technology leading to a more open society, we feed our own biases. Although there is a “democracy” to Facebook (freedom to like comments), it also results in targeted marketing. In the end, social media supports the “hyper-partisanship in Washington” and can lead to our own “faith bubbles.”. (122-3)
The “Google Doctrine” may be changing the world, but it’s not as free as one might think. Although social media has helped spur revolution and the downfall of brutal dictators, such brutes have caught on. Misinformation is a problem. A study of the 2011 protests in Russia found that half the tweets sent out were by “bots” used by the government to counter the protests. (193). While Twitter is often condemned for being too short to have said anything meaningful, Detweiler reminds us that in a world where we are drowning in information, there is something refreshing about reducing ideas to their simple base (“an electronic haiku”). Humorously, he links Twitter to the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which he refers to as the “original Twitterverse” (184)
Detweiler reminds his readers of our need for “Sabbaths.” We need to step away from social media as a way to remind ourselves what is important. Although the “iGods” taunt us with faster speeds, we should remember that the Bible lifts up the virtue of patience. We should “celebrate technology as a gift, but resist the temptation to prostrate ourselves before it.” (225)
Although some will find this book deep, it is well-written and should be read by anyone wanting to understand the implications of this new technological world. Detweiler quotes theologians, sociologists, historians, and philosophers. However, the reading is not easy. I am sure many, especially those who may not be comfortable in the many disciplines from which he draws, may find the way Detweiler shifts from one paragraph to the next from a discussion of technology to theological to issues of faith or social importance a bit confusing.