Update: Power Failure

I’m getting close to the end and thought I’d post a few more thoughts on this book. After the first three chapters which lay out the philosophical groundwork, Borgmann tries to lay out the constructive case for theological reflection on technology. I’ll try and summarize two chapters (or at least some of the elements that interested me):

First, he talks about contingency and grace. His basic point is that technology creates a culture and expectation of control. As life is increasingly controlled, there is less and less space for an experience of grace (or God), so Christian reflection on technology must seek to recover a space for continency. In other words, we must reverse a kind of negative God of the gaps (an atheism of non-gaps/control, if you will).  In response, Borgmann suggests a renewed focus on the contingency of laws (an application of the anthropic principle – why these laws?) and of conditions (appealing to chaos theory and thought similar to that of Polkinghorne). Through this, we can renew the commanding presence of the real world, which provokes from us reverence and even worship and which itself is occassion of real grace.

He next tackles the issue of power and care. He notes that most Christian critiques of culture (e.g., Longergan and Hartshorne) have been internal; they have assumed the criteria of technology to evaluate it. Thus, they are unwarrentedly optimistic about their technological pessimism. They assume technology will fail by its own standards and thus be driven to reform. Such critiques only challenge background factors; they never challenge technology in its ultimate questions. Because of technology, we confront the limits and discomforts of this life with anger and incomprehension. Suffering no longer points us to something beyond ourselves; we look to future technology to fix things. We need to go beyond regardless power (power that will offer us comfort and ease regardless of circumstances) and recognize that this power thins out our daily life and can’t offer us true wholeness. He uses bread as an example. Bread is now always available in multiple forms so we are never hungry, but we no longer view it in light of wheat fields and baking and communal eating settings. In our technological setting, human frailty is no longer seen primarily in poverty and sickness but in a poverty of purpose and meaning and nature and art. So, we must recover practices of life that open us to a more careful power and channel techology into a more marginal status in shaping our lives.


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