Mark Zuckerberg recently held a Q&A session where the question of Facebook’s value in real life was raised.1 Zuckerberg’s answer was characterized by historical and philosophical depth:
‘What defines a technological tool — one historical definition — is something that takes a human’s sense or ability and augments it and makes it more powerful. So, for example, I wear contact lenses or glasses; that is a technology that enhances my human ability of vision and makes it better.’
There are two things that stand out from this answer:
Zuckerberg has a solid grasp on what constitutes a good technology tool–or technological tools proper.
What often passes as techology or technological tools are merely play things that pass under the guise of innovation. Inventions and products that are really nifty and flashy but succeed very little in easing life or extending human abilities or productivity. Technology is meant to extend human ability and thereby making the user more productive and thereby easing the burden of labor. “Technology” that doesn’t do this is bad technology.
Zuckerberg apparently believes that Facebook falls into the category of good technology.
This is probably where Zuckerberg is likely to lose some people, but let’s think this through for a minute. Zuckerberg’s defense is that Facebook allows people to extend their ability to maintain relationships. Zuckerberg referenced Dunbar’s Number as an example of how Facebook is able to extend human ability. Dunbar’s Number can be defined as
‘a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.’2
This number is commonly thought to be around 150 (although some would set it higher), meaning that the average human being is capable of maintaining roughly 150 stable relationships. Facebook, according to Zuckerberg, is able to take the average human being and allow him to maintain not only 150 stable relationships but to maintain even more than that through Facebook’s assistance.
While I am somewhat doubtful of Facebook’s ability to overcome my own cognitive limits when it comes to human relationships, there is something to be said for Social Network’s capabilities in assisting in managing relationships and the flow of information that proceeds from relationships. Being able to see events in people’s lives through pictures or videos or text is similar to what we would be doing in “real life”. Social Networks simply give us another medium by which to share and be involved with these events.
Technology and the Image of God
Doubts aside, Zuckerberg’s comments about technology have reinforced some thoughts I’ve been having lately about what technology is supposed to do and what attracts us to technology.
Good technology is meant to assist and extend our existence as humans. We are engaged in countless different activities and tasks throughout the course of the day. Most of these tasks are repetitive and involve making very basic decisions–these tasks are prime candidates for technological assistance. Of course, that assistance needs to actually be assistance and not just another process to babysit–which is an obvious sign of bad technological assistance.
But what is it that attracts us to technology? Why do we need it? What makes technology “hot”?
There are three truths about mankind that explain and fuel our technological needs and desires:
Man is created in the Image of God.
In the Genesis account of the creation of man, God explains how he will create man:
‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”’ Genesis 1.26 ESV [emphasis mine]
God creates man “in his image”. This is why we speak about the image of God or Imago Dei. There is a good deal of discussion over exactly what is meant by this phrase, but two things stick out this passage. The first is that man is created with some characteristics and attributes that mirror the attributes and characteristics of God. As Scripture unfolds we see that God loves and man loves. God is angry and man is angry. God communicates and man communicates. God is capable of knowledge and man is capable of knowledge. God and man share characteristics and attributes because man is created in the image of God. There is a difference though. Man’s characteristics and attributes always mirror God’s and are inferior to God’s. Man is capable of knowing, but God is omniscient–he knows all things and has no need of learning anything. Man is physically present, but God is omnipresent–he is everywhere at all times. Man is physically capable, but God is omnipotent–he is able to do anything he desires. Man is made in the image of God and so shares in God’s attributes and characteristics–but these attributes and characteristics and flavored with finiteness. We could always do more. We could always know more. We could always communicate more. We have never and can never attain to infinity because we were create as finite beings–bearing the image not the essence.
The second thing that sticks out is that this image is expressed through dominion. Man is made in the image and God and demonstrates that image through his dominion of the planet and its creatures that God has placed him on. We exercise this daily through science and construction and conservation and through government. We live out this image of God upon our own little image of the universe.
It stands to reason then, that the more we know the better we govern. The more we communicate the better we govern. Anything which strengthens and extends our image, strengthens and extends our dominion. As image-bearers that is irresistible. The principle that man bears the image of God creates desire and need for avenues to extend and expand our image. Technological tools are one way in which we able to do that.
Man desires to be like God
There is a siren call which extends all the way back to Genesis and it goes like this:
‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3.5 ESV
One of Satan’s chief reasons for Eve to eat of that tragic tree of the knowledge of good and evil was ‘you will be like God.’ There are few things that we want more than that. We have tasted God’s attributes, but we are not content. We can imagine what infinity must look like and feel like–and we want it. We want to be like God. The hottest technological trends that we see are a direct tug on man’s heart in this direction. Analyze all your customer’s movements and patters–be like God. Gather detailed statistics and feel and beat the trends–be like God. Big Data and Social Networks thrive off of the promise of a more god-like comprehension of the world and people around us. The more bold the promise the better the fruit looks. Technological tools prove irresistible as they dangle the juicy promise of being like God before our eyes.
Man lives in a cursed world
The bitter edge of Genesis 3 and man’s desire to be like God has placed mankind in a difficult position that requires and encourages technological tools:
‘And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”’ Genesis 3.17-19 ESV
The crushing curse pronounced by God upon mankind after the fall took reality and turned it upside down. All things had been created good–now they were cursed. Tree and plants brought fruit of themselves–now the ground produces thorns and thistles. Man tended the garden–now Man eats in pain and sweat. The Preacher, in Ecclesiastes, expresses it this way:
‘What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.’ Ecclesiastes 3.9-13 ESV [emphasis mine]
In perhaps the greatest commentary on the curse, the Preacher notes that he has seen the “business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” It is what makes the Preacher exclaim ‘vanity of vanities! All is vanity.’ Our fall necessitates help in our present condition. Help to bear the burden placed upon us by divine curse. Help that extends man’s capabilities and faculties so that he can hopefully not only bear the awful burden but prosper as well.
Technological tools also excite us because they present us with the hope that man can overcome and prosper in the midst of a sin-cursed world. It is an optimism that is blinds of the reality that our world is activey governed by God. The curse of God on this earth will not be defeated by man’s ingenuity–or else God would not be omniscient or omnipotent. Our thirst for technological tools becomes just another means by which we might exalt ourselves and our own wisdom and strength against God. Technological tools are necessary because of the fall and the curse which binds men to vanity and labor, but often also express the idle boasting of men who think they are more clever than God.
Whether Zuckerberg’s dream of mankind being more capable of creating sustaining more human relationships through technology remains to be seen, but his dream is rooted in who we are as human beings. It reflects the truth of the way we have been created and the desires and problems we experience because of our sin. We have a genuine need of “good technology” and our understanding of the image of God can show us why.