One of the most dangerous things you can believe in our modern world is that technology is neutral. Yes, technology is the means by which we transform the world as it is into the world that we desire. However, what we often fail to notice is that it is not only the world that gets transformed by technology. We, too, are transformed.
So how would one go about practically evaluating how technology is transforming us? You can use the acrostic VELT, defined below. Put another way, you can VELT it!
Valuation: Here one would return to scripture to find their personal values and identity. From it one would evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a specific technology and what values emerge from the tendencies of use built into its design. One may use Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad to guide in assessing technology (see below with examples).
Experimentation: Thinking about tech is helpful, but it is difficult to discover the tendencies and value systems built into it without actually using it. Therefore, one would do a controlled experiment in using it to discover it.
Limitation: Here one would aim to have disciplined boundaries – acknowledging what boundaries should be set individually, as a family but also being aware of the limitations of the technology itself (linking back to Valuation). Every technology brings with it both opportunities but also risks. Every technology not only helps solve some gap but also introduces new ones; it opens up new opportunities even while having certain new limitations.
Togetherness: Today’s tech places a high value on personalization, customization to the individual. Choosing to do tech together, rejects the self-centered orientation of the flesh. Anyway one may be able to use technology to pursue collectivism rather than individualism that would be preferred.
Now let’s try this with an example, using smartphones/tablets as a base:
Valuation: We’ll use McLuhan’s tetrad on media/tech doing 4 things:
- Extend and magnify: phones enhance the ability to communicate. Facebook or other similar social media tools transform by taking friendship and personal identity and reforming them into a unified, consistent experience. We take who we are and transform our identity into something that fits on a webpage.
- Eliminate or amputate: phones eliminate the need for landlines. Also eliminates or decreases the chances that one would be unreachable or alone for an extended period of time.
- Retrieves something from the past: phones retrieve ability to connect on a regular basis with a frequency and familiarity to when people lived in smaller communities.
- Reversing into a more negative behavior when overused: with phones it is more difficult to deeply connect with anyone. We risk surface level communication.
If you asked the average person, ‘what is the meaning of your smart phone and what sense of identify & values does it mediate to you?’ you would receive a confused look. However, if you ask – ‘how do you feel if your phone was irrecoverably damaged by water?’ you would connect with their emotions immediately. At times the technology we hold in our pockets is not just a tool but an integral part of our identity. At first glance they don’t seem to transform at least in a physical sense. The phone is transforming the physical world by connecting two people who are physically distant. The presence of the cell phone in my pocket means that my conceptions of space, time and limits are radically different compared with a world without it.
Experimentation: For those that hadn’t tried a certain smartphone or a specific app on a phone, one may do a trial of it to see how it impacts them and others around them. With other realms, for those that have not been on twitter or other social media tools, this may be an opportunity to discover it in a controlled manner. Seek to discover the value of it, strengths and weaknesses.
Limitation: In the morning one may avoid checking email right away and in the evening, when coming home from work, one may decide not to use their smartphone until the kids go to bed. Not to simply limit tech usage but to open up space to live the kind of life that we’re meant to live in connecting with people in my life. Some may even choose to fast – abstaining from technology for a period of time regularly can help weaken its control.
Togetherness: Make tech togetherness a priority. Aim for shared experiences whenever possible. Watch a video together, share movie trailers or YouTube clips, reviewing Facebook updates, aim to work on a shared calendar together, or play games together – all of these things help create intentional time with friends, family.
Technology is a marvelous thing. However, when technology has distracted us to the point that we no longer VELT it, it gains the greatest opportunity to walk over us.
Additional Reference: The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century by Marshall McLuhan