Thriving in a technological age

Simon Smart on chess-playing robots, the promises and disappointments of technology, and human flourishing.

Last week at the Moscow chess open a 7-year-old competitor had his finger broken by the robot he was playing against. The little boy made the mistake of beginning his next move too quickly and paid a heavy price. In response, President of the Moscow Chess Federation, Sergey Lazarev, sounding rather robotic himself, said “The robot broke the child’s finger. This, of course, is bad.”

Technology doesn’t always deliver on its promise even when physical maiming is not involved. Author and speaker Andy Crouch is on his way to Australia at the beginning of September to deliver CPX’s Richard Johnson Lecture. His topic: “The Disappointments of Technology”. Crouch is no luddite but does have wisdom to offer when it comes to structuring our technology-dominated lives in a way that we are likely to thrive.

As we relentlessly pursue technology’s promise of “things we will now be able to do”, and those “we will no longer have to”, might we regret losses we hadn’t anticipated, and rue new compulsions and addictions?

Crouch illustrates this with the image of the loss of the hearth as a central part of every house. We can heat our modern houses with the touch of a button but gone is the unifying fire that gathers people from the edges of the home. The trade-off, writes Crouch, is one where today, many household members spend much of their time alone in their bedrooms, engaged with glowing rectangles. In this exchange, he fears we have forsaken something sacred.

Can we still decide to build our lives around instruments that foster relationships and creativity rather than be subject to our devices? Crouch believes so. But it will take care, and discipline, and a reminder of how profoundly different embodied, emotional, and spiritual human beings are from machines.