Search

Search this blog


Building off of the four laws of media in Marshall and Eric McLuhan’s Laws of Media: The New Science (1988), John Dyer, author of From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology (Kregel, 2011), has helpfully labeled these observations and turned them into questions:

  • Enhancement: What natural function or older medium does the new medium amplify or intensify?
  • Obsolescence: What natural function or older medium does the new medium drive out of prominence?
  • Retrieval: What older medium or practices are recovered by the new medium?
  • Reversal: What happens when the medium is overused or pushed to its limits?

To show how this works, Dyer uses the example of a mobile phone:

  • Enhancement: The mobile phone amplifies the human voice and our ability to communicate. It also extends the range of older land lines.
  • Obsolescence: The mobile phone makes land lines less important, but also other less instantaneous forms of communication like letter writing.
  • Retrieval: The mobile phone restores oral communication for those separated by physical distances who used to only be able to communicate via letters.
  • Reversal: When overused, the mobile phone disconnects and isolates people. Users can also annoy those around them and no be truly present with those in their midst.

Dyer also suggests that this can be roughly mapped on to the biblical storyline:

  • Reflection: (Creation) How does this technology display the imago dei (Gen 1:26-27)? How does it help accomplish the creation mandate (Gen 1:28; 2:15)?
  • Rebellion: (Fall) How does this technology attempt to live apart from dependence on God (Gen 4:17)?
  • Redemption: What effects of the Fall can this technology help overcome (Gen 3:7; 1 Tim 5:23)?
  • Restoration: What unintended consequences or shortcomings does this technology bring? Do these make us long for Christ to return and restore all things?

In his popular book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP, 2008), Andy Crouch has his own twist on this, focusing upon assumptions (both about what is and what ought to be) and results (new possibilities, new obstacles, new responses)

 

  • What does this artifact assume about the way the world is?
  • What does it assume about the way the world should be?
  • What does it make possible?
  • What does it make impossible, or at least a lot more difficult?
  • And what new culture is created in response?

To see how Dyer would respond to these questions about Twitter, go here.

But there is some danger in all of this: we can take an intellectualist approach to new technologies and cultural artifacts and increase our knowledge along the lines of “worldview thinking” (which I support). But it’s not enough. As Crouch said in an interview:

These questions certainly include the issues that “worldview thinking” addresses, though I think they go a bit beyond to examine the concrete effects of cultural goods as well as the ideas and values they embody. I would love for more Christians to use questions like these in all sorts of settings, for what we consume as well as what we cultivate and create.

Crouch goes on to illustrate the practical effect of asking and answering these questions when it came to buying a TV for his family:

Last week I purchased the first television our family has ever owned. You can bet I went through those questions several times before making the decision to buy that TV, because I’m keenly aware that bringing this cultural good into our home will make some things possible and other things impossible or much more difficult. Indeed, once I’ve answered those questions, part of my responsibility as a Christian is to ask what other new cultural goods I need to introduce into our family’s life to mitigate the potential “impossibilities” that the TV might create.

For example, I need to consider where the TV is placed in the house—in our case, we put it in the basement, far from the heart of our family’s life, which centers around our dining table, grand piano, and fireplace.

I need to articulate values for our kids about what we will use the TV for—watching movies we have chosen in advance rather than, God forbid, turning on the TV to see “what’s on,” and for the most part avoiding advertising-supported content since I think that advertising-supported content is almost always inferior to content that people are asked to pay for directly. (This is why HBO is so much consistently better than network television.)

I may need to strengthen our family’s counter-consumption disciplines of generosity, which is why, at Catherine’s suggestion, we gave away twice what we spent on the television to Africa Rising, an organization that supports indigenous development efforts in East Africa.

But you see that if all I do is ask those five questions, I will have done very little to harness the good and minimize the harm of this new artifact I’m introducing into our family’s culture. I can’t just be a “cultural critic.” I have to move beyond that to asking what I will create if I’m to have any hope of shaping a flourishing culture in our home.

Worldview thinking is a fine place to start, but we need to move beyond it to creativity.

 


View Comments

Comments:


Search this blog


About


Justin Taylor photo

Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books