Book review: From the Garden to the City

Garden to cityTechnology. For some the word carries a sense of threat, it is the destroyer of the world they knew and grew up in while for others it is the creator, opening up new possibilities and horizons. Truth is, that technology is both. While the technology has a strong whiff of the modern and future about it, mankind has always used technology. From the invention of the first spade or spear to the invention of nuclear weapons and smart watches technology has been ever present.

This insight, that technology is essentially a word for the tools we create was one of many helpful insights gained from reading John Dyer’s From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and corrupting power of technologyYet despite the fact technology has always been with us, there is a definite sense that what we are currently seeing is different, at least in scale to anything previously witnessed, and in that you would be right. We live in an age of almost exponential growth as a result of development, money, population and most of all computing power. The speed of change can be disconcerting and disorienting and we need thoughtful and reliable guides and John Dyer is one of those.

When a new tool comes along we are most concerned with its utility: how can this help me? What we don’t ask is: how will this change me? And new tools change us, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Twitter, of which I am a fan, has changed people’s written communication by making it very short for starters. This connection between language and technology is very important, if someone says they’re doing a technology fast what they mean is not watching TV or checking Facebook, what they don’t mean is not using electricity or public transport, which are also technologies.

As a result we need some kind of grid to help us assess the different technologies that come our way, and they now come very fast. This grid helps us work out whether we need an internet enabled toothbrush or a new HDTV but also why we want a tool in our lives. Dyer rightly points out that,

The allure of technology, then, is a promise that the right tools will bring about a better world. We continually tell ourselves that with technology we can take this broken world and mould it into the better one that we all desire.

This desire in fallen humanity is an important truth to realise that in a world that has rejected Christ as saviour they have accepted technology as saviour instead. Who will save us from climate change? New technology. What will solve the world’s problems? New technology. What will one day defeat even death itself? New technology. The internet carried hopes of a new world order that would break down global differences – and anyone who read the comment section on almost any article will realise how foolish that dream was.

What we see today is the continuation of an unbroken line of humanity that consciously or unconsciously views technology as a god and saviour.

The temptation then would be to resist and reject technology en mass but while we clearly see the rebellion in technology we should its redemptive role. Just think about Noah’s ark for starters. Dyer does a good job of taking us through the Bible and pointing out little details we may have missed or skimmed over that relate to how we use tools as an outworking of God’s plan for mankind as stewards in creation. It would also do us no harm to think a bit longer about the connection between the second commandment and television.

Dyer is significantly influenced by the thinking of Marshall McLuhan and Neal Postman as he readily encourages us to think about technology in terms of ecology and how the medium shapes us (the medium is the message) which is probably the most consistent point throughout the whole book – the tools you use will change your world but they will also change you.

As a result then as Christians we need to ‘determine what our values are first and attempt to use our tools in service of those values’. If as a family you value reading then you will think about how much you watch TV, if you value shared activities you will think about the games you buy and where computers are placed etc…

I use technology a lot, we all do and my children are born into a world that my ancestors would not have recognised and it’s changing fast. The tool of this book, shaped me in helpful ways. I consider this book essential reading for navigating modern life well as Christians and would put it in my toolkit for every Christian to read.

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