A Feature Review of
iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives
Reviewed by Adam Metz.
I can still remember two teenage girls from our youth group telling me that they had recently set up an account for me on a new website called Facebook – “It’s way cooler than Myspace,” they assured me. Facebook had just begun allowing non-students to sign up, and these girls were certain I would want to join. I quickly assimilated the novel social networking website into my daily routine to the point where it now comes so naturally that it is difficult to remember life B.F.B. (before Facebook). Fast forwarding to today finds my Facebook account linked to my Instagram and Twitter accounts which take time away from my Snapchat, Youtube, LinkedIn, iTunes, and Google accounts. The dizzying rate at which these technological innovations have assimilated into everyday life for millions of people has left us little time to reflect upon the spiritual dynamics of how these innovations have shaped and are shaping our spiritual and social lives.
I need to take a breath. We all need to take a breath. The benefits of our hyper-connected world are so obvious to us that we seldom stop and consider all the implications of the increasingly overwhelming world of technology. In the Industrial Age, John Henry triumphed over the steam engine only to die with his hammer his hand. The John Henry of the Information Age of today is Jeopardy! uber-champion, Ken Jennings who, despite his numerous wins on the game show, was no match for the IBM supercomputer Watson. We have been forced to wave the white flag of surrender; we can’t keep up. Technology wins. We have all bowed down before the iGods.
In his latest book, iGods: How Technology Shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives, Pepperdine communications professor, Craig Detweiler, helps us all take a much needed breath in the world of too much. This book could not be more timely. The dust has begun to settle from the great technological gold rush of Silicon Valley and clear leaders have emerged. Detweiler sees this dust settling and seizes the moment to offer some crucial reflections on the leaders who have emerged from the technological arms race of the past two decades.
Detweiler explores the spiritual dynamics of the cultic world of Apple, the algorithms of Google, the machine of Amazon, the success of Facebook, and the hyperconnectivity of Youtube, Instagram and Twitter all through the rubric of abundance – abundance of information, relationships, and “stuff.” He states in his introduction: “We need a theology of abundance to deal with the outcomes of our technology” (14). Detweiler acknowledges from the beginning that in a world of too much, discernment is emerging as the most vital spiritual discipline of the 21st century. Throughout the book Detweiler proves himself to be a wise guide helping us discern how these technologies that so many of us cannot imagine living without are shaping the broader contours of our existence.
A week before I read iGods, I watched the Oscar-nominated movie, Her. The movie depicts, artistically, many of the questions that Dr. Detweiler wrestles with in his book. I asked Detweiler, who is also a filmmaker, how he thought the movie compliments the message of his book.
Her reflects the zeitgeist in remarkable ways. I am so impressed that Spike Jonze crafted a creative response to a situation we’ve hardly recognized or analyzed. What a feat to make the premise of falling in love with an Operating System viable and compelling. With the arrival of Google Glass, we’re just entering the age of wearable tech that filters and interprets almost every experience. So Her will likely grow in relevance and prescience over the next decade. It explains why we are so attracted to our devices and yet how necessary human touch and an embodied faith will remain. I hope that those who love Her will resonate with iGods.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and couldn’t help but be reminded of it throughout Detweiler’s book. They each wrestle with deep, penetrating questions raised by technology regarding physicality, spirituality, time, and community – questions we are often too busy to take time to reflect upon. In response to my asking about the timeliness of his book, Detweiler responded that it was the most timely book he has written, and “the challenge was connecting timeless truths to such a rapidly shifting realm.”