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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

"iGods" (Craig Detweiler)

TITLE: iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives
AUTHOR: Craig Detweiler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013, (256 pages).

"Technology is most effective when we fail to notice it, but our faith in technology is so pervasive it is often blind." This dramatic phrase kicks off a very perceptive study about how technology is shaping our spiritual and social lives. Dr Craig Detweiler is a well-known researcher and writer on media and the technological scene. Recognizing how pervasive and how so many people are consuming the technological offerings uncritically, he presents a warning for us to pause, to take a step back, and to ask how technology has been shaping us. Perhaps, we will recognize how much we have already been shaped. Detweiler says it well that we must be careful not to let our use of technology move from delight to devotion. Left on its own, we can very well be participants making "iGods" into our own image. Worse, without understanding the real threats of the misuse and abuse of technology, we can let something good turn into something very bad.

How true it is. There are so many examples that point to that. Detweiler targets the five technological giants of today. First, there is Apple that is riding the waves of popularity through aesthetically pleasing designs and very creative innovations. Describing Steve Jobs's role as a "techno-messiah" who turned a struggling company into America's most valuable business, we learn the success of Apple comes at the price of dominating and controlling management. Jobs's ruling over his employees is quite a parallel to how Apple wants to rule over the rest of the world. With a fanatical focus on good design, it has unconsciously created in people that it is more important to look good outside. Other problems include addictive desire that makes people refuse to unplug from their Apple devices. Second is the rise of Amazon which is both a boon and a bane for publishers, authors, and booksellers. Creators and publishers see the online world as an essential platform for distributing and for online businesses. Amazon sees it more than just books but the Internet as a platform to sell everything and anything, even if it means forcing traditional publishers to trim their profit margins. The shopping experience has undercut local stores, short-circuited customer services, blunt traditional stores any pricing advantages, and is creating a culture of distant shoppers where people do not need to interact at all face to face. We may be unwittingly buying more things than we need, undercutting honest businesses more than we want, and making Amazon richer at the price others may not be able to afford. Third, Detweiler focuses on Google, the aggregator and super data collector of the world. There is a high cost of using the free products that Google provides: our privacy and personal information. Is Google an information hungry giant that is never satisfied? Is Google trying to be like God? Are we feeding too much on Google provided pages that we fail to read other sites, other books, or other more credible sources? The fourth iGod is Facebook which is arguably the leader of social media networking today. Detweiler calls Facebook a "frenemy," that it is both a friend as well as an enemy. As a friend, we get connected to many of our contacts and we find it easy to share information. As an enemy, we risk addiction, loss of privacy, and letting the number of friends, likes, and social media performance dictate the way we see ourselves. While we are social creatures, we also need to ask ourselves about the relationship between our social beings and our social media inklings. Which is influencing which? How real are we on the Internet? Are we letting Facebook be a source of validation? For Christians, are we missing out the importance that it is God our ultimate Validator? Is Facebook a self-glorifying platform? The fifth iGod has Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram lumped together. Detweiler probes why users share things via these platforms. With Youtube's temptation for us to constantly broadcast ourselves, we are urged to consider other reasons like "We Tube" to avoid ourselves becoming too self-focused. Twitter is increasingly a popular medium which is quickly becoming a place where people can get all the latest updates in the quickest possible time. Short and sweet appears to be the maxim. The ease in which people can become followers come at the risk of being impersonal and forgetting that followers are also people. Just like messages are greatly abbreviated on Twitter, there is a danger that relationships can also be shortened or shallow. With instagram, it is easy to take many pictures and photos and at the same time not asking why we are doing what we are doing. Is there a connection to something more in the way we gravitate toward these technologies?

We are all familiar with the technological landscape nowadays.What we are less familiar is the insidious effects happening inside users, especially those who use them without much thought or reflection. I appreciate Detweiler's very mature and reflective take on the ways the five major iGods are suffocating us. He poses questions like the uncritical acceptance of speed. Is faster better? Has it made us less patient? He looks at the way companies like Amazon are feeding our greed and materialistic desires. Is more the merrier? Has it made us more greedy and more coveting? He reminds us that information is important but unlimited information can blunt our discernment abilities. We are encouraged to ask ourselves: Is having unlimited information meaningful, or has it lead us to become unthinking and uncritical consumers? On the rise of social media, Detweiler leads us through some observations of how the social media landscape has shaped us in terms of self-esteem, egoism, self-praise, and the importance to see self-worth from God's perspective.

Perhaps, beneath the fascination and fanaticism over all things technology, lies something fundamentally very simple. We need significance. We need discernment and bravery to ask the very basic questions like: "Is technology really making life better for us?" While many of us have taken for granted the technologies that we live with, I wonder about how many of us being able to live WITHOUT them. Indeed, how entrenched are iGods in our lives is proportional to our ability to live without them. In other words, the more we find it hard to live without technologies we have gotten so used to, the more entrenched the iGods are. Some of us, like the author will need the help of external controls to help us be more aware of offline world.This book is an eye opener to the underlying philosophies and temptations offered by the five major iGods of our modern world. This is an important book that is a great corrective to a technological infatuated world.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Brazos Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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