Via Rosie Perera’s Faith and Technology blog (which I highly recommend you read, if you’re not already familiar with it), I read this morning an essay by the Greek Orthodox Archimandrite Aimilianos on “Orthodox Spirituality and the Technological Revolution.”
Technology per se is not, of course, harmful, being the fruit of the reasoning and intellect of Man, who was formed in the image of God. But when, unrestrained and unbridled, it rushes headlong towards its destination, then it becomes Luciferous, though not bearing light but rather pitch darkness. The danger for us is the absence of accountability in the way in which technology is administered and exploited, a way which has as its aim the stifling domination of human life and the solution of problems by technical means, regardless of moral and metaphysical principles.
The essay then goes on to make two valuable points: first, that in the history of technology there was a time when monasteries were centers of technological innovation (something Arnold Pacey and other historians of technology would agree with wholeheartedly), and describing the design principles that guide the use of technology in monastic life (and by implication, the selection and use of technology in modern life as well).
The first principle is restraint.
[T]hose technical applications are chosen which preserve “the peace and tranquility” of monastery life, so that both undue care and torturing effort are avoided. Let us have as our aim “moderation and simplicity”. For Basil the Great, technology is “necessary in itself to life and provides many facilities” (PG 31, 1017B), provided the unity of the life of the brotherhood is preserved, undistracted and devoted to the Lord.
The second is what he calls spiritual vigilance.
The most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image, is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence….
In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things produced. In post-industrial society, they are also becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.
Restraint and spiritual vigilance are, for all those who come into the world, a weapon made ready from the experience of the monastic life and Orthodox Tradition in general, one which abolishes the servitude of humanity and preserves our health and sovereignty as children of God.