Power Failure (19)

Today I began Power Failure: Christianity in the Culture of Technology by Albert Borgman. It’s published by Brazos, which is putting out some pretty interesting books on faith and culture and didn’t look to be that long, so it seemed a good choice. On diving in, while interesting, the text is denser than I expected. It is written by a philosopher and it read like it in spots. But it has great blurbs (Robert Bellah, Marva Dawn and David Gill) and connects to some of my other summer reading, so I’m hard at it.

The first chapter examines the technological culture most of us are familiar with. After observing that science, politics and even philosophy have little to say about the actual material culture we live in, Bogmann suggests that they cannot escape it nontheless. He highlights this with the story of Cool Whip; a traditional thing which we can understand has been replaced by something artificial and opaque – and accessible. That is a key element of the technological culture. Borgmann rejects both technological optimism and pessimism.

The second chapter expands to discuss the moral significance of material culture. That is, we cannot talk about even virtues (as in virtue ethics) without looking at the lived, material reality within which such virtues are embedded. He uses music as his concrete example in this chapter. Before the modern technological culture, music was produced by instruments which were “commanding things” (you had to learn how to play them and the playing revealed something about the performer, for example). By contrast, a stereo requires no such practice (it is accessible) and produces far better quality music (at least in most cases); this is “pliable or disposable” device. Or to put it more directly, we respect a musician, we own a stereo.  So, in technological cultures, we move increasingly from practices (e.g., cooking a family dinner) to consumption (grazing out of the cupboard or microwaving a pre-packaged meal). He provides a set of pairs of terms to highlight the general direction: excellent vs. banal; deep vs. shallow; communal vs. individualistic; celebratory vs. consumerist.

That’s a start anyway. The latter part of the book is said to be constructive, so I’m looking forward to seeing what the implications might be for us.

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One Response to “Power Failure (19)”

  1. sephaiden Says:

    Wow… this is really interesting…

    Will definitely check out this book, if I ever happen to find it haha!

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