"Men have become the tools of their tools," wrote Henry David Thoreau in Walden. He went on to say, "While civilisation has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings." A century and a half later, these words seem both prophetic and apt, writes writes Carl McColman in The Huffington Post.
Our cultural fascination with ever-improving technology makes for rising standards of convenience and entertainment, nestled within ever-increasing systems of security - but leaving human beings as susceptible as ever to our own brutality and rage, as events from the Sandy Hook massacre to the unceasing hostilities in places like Syria make all too clear.
The business cliché of "thinking outside the box" points to how sometimes we need a new or different perspective, in order to see possible solutions to a problem. In trying to make sense of the disconnect between ever-expansive technological achievement and how humanity as a whole continues to suffer, sometimes as a direct consequence of our technology, perhaps taking a step back can offer us new insight. In this case, "a step back" could mean considering the wisdom of the past and how it can shed light on the issues of the present.
This is why I turned to Thoreau for his thoughts on technology, as a way of introducing an even richer exploration of this question. In Returning to Reality: Thomas Merton's Wisdom for a Technological World (Cascade Books), Phillip Thompson, director of the Aquinas Centre at Emory University, offers a brief summary of the 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton's thought regarding technology, and then applies Merton's ideas to three contemporary issues: the threat of nuclear apocalypse, the revolution in communication technologies, and the "transhuman" implications of biotechnologies used for healing, enhancing or prolonging life.
Thompson describes Merton's thought as a "contemplative critique," highlighting how Merton approached his philosophy of technology by considering the relationship between the machine and contemplation.
Merton's understanding of contemplation can be discerned in this line from his journal: "our technological society no longer has any place in it for wisdom that seeks truth for its own sake, that seeks the fullness of being."
Technology is fundamentally utilitarian: The question that drives all technological innovation is, "Will it work?" By contrast, contemplation is concerned with meaning, with relationship, and with community. A contemplative approach to technology will not ask, "Will it work?" but, "Is it good?" or "Is it just?"
With this in mind, it is easy to see why nuclear proliferation alarmed Merton. Such weapons might "work" as technology for deterrence or aggression, but they violate the Christian imperative to love the enemy (and could "work" so well that using them amounts to suicide).
Likewise, the revolution in communications technology seems linked to increasing social isolation and falling literacy rates, and the promise of technologically managed life and health appears to emerge from the same kind of domination mentality that has led to widespread environmental degradation.
FULLL STORY Would Thomas Merton Use an iPad? (Huffington Post)