How Technology Influences Our Non-Technological Sensibilities

Technology, in particular, digital technology – which includes the explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), is ubiquitous. Writers such as Neil Postman (Technopoly) and Nicholas Carr (The Shallows), along with many others, have written extensively on the effects and impact of technology on our lives. I agree with them. One aspect of the confluence between this technology and ourselves which doesn’t get as much attention is how technology also re-wires our perspectives on religion. Some of this reconfiguration is direct (such as affecting our attention span) while others are more subtle and indirect. It is the latter that I wish to discuss here. Continue reading “How Technology Influences Our Non-Technological Sensibilities”

Summer Reading List 2013

I was asked by several folks at the 2013 APRetreat what I have been and would be reading. These are the books I hope to read over the summer:

[1] Carolyn Steel’s, Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives. [2] The Shallows by Nicholas Carr; [3] John Dewey’s, Art As Experience; [4] John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music by Leonard Brown; [5] The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord; [6] John Abramson’s, Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine; [7] Technopoly, by Neil Postman; [8] Eat To Live by Joel Fuhrman; [9] Living in the Labyrinth of Technology, by Willem H. Vanderburg; [10] Elizabeth Abbott’s, Sugar; [11] Driven To Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey; [12] The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities by Will Allen; [13] al-Ittiqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an by al-Suyuti; [14] Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability, edited by Alison Hope Alkon and Julian Agyeman.

Extras

Predominance of Science – Some Thoughts

As has been pointed out numerous times, Muslim scholars from the medieval and so-called “golden age” where practitioners of what we could call science today (something close to it) as well as being doctors in many of the various fields of religious studies. There is much speculation as to why the change in duality has occurred: being a person of science (i.e., dedicated to studying the natural world) and being a person of God. Many look at it as the degradation of society and the collapse of moral infrastructure; the pervasiveness of immorality. And while this may have contributed to it (though I feel this is more symptomatic than it is causal), I feel it has been the atrophy and lackadaisical attitude of religious thinkers and institutions that have been the greatest contributors if not facilitators of this modern demise. I say this because in those pre-modern times, science was mostly a way of exploiting the natural world to some benefit, and was never meant to be theology or even eschatology in and of itself. It was simply a method. But as the genius of religious thinking waned, technology, who was never born for this, was by proxy and de-facto, thrust onto stage as the ever-growing and only means of “knowing.” As religious thinking retreated, it became more and more comfortable in its own seclusion and surrendered its birthright to “tell us” and to “narrate to us.” So when I look out on the youth of today’s Ummah it is not coincidence that so many Muslims have continued to retreat to and swell the ranks of science-based programs (versus the humanities). This exodus is not only based on economic factors (though this does play an important role) but is also grounded in the stark reality that religion, as it is being articulated today, captures little of the imagination of young Muslims. In essence, religion has become boring.

I have been talking with a few colleagues for several years now for the need for a “fiqh of technology.” One of the greatest challenges facing humanity at this point is what is technology, does it have any limits, is it genuinely neutral, and to what ultimate purpose is its use? I can see no other way of answering any of these questions unless we consult religion. As technology pushes us to move faster and faster, fractures our capacity for deep and sustained thought, as its very short shelf life of usefulness makes an even greater quandary for its very long half-lives, as it increasingly wants to the thinking for us, we will increasingly run the risk of not only destroying our natural world, but may in fact be expediting our obsoleteness as Bani Adam. It is clear to me, and I have an itching intuition that it is for many others as well, that technology is not going to solve problems, or even make our lives better in and of itself, if people are not at the top of the thinking food chain. I saw the iPhone 5’s release as a prescient moment where for the first time in long while, a piece of technology truly failed to deliver on all its hype. Yes, people gathered around the block but it was almost as if a small but important balloon had been popped somewhere in the stratosphere (the Heavens?) And perhaps what troubles me the most about all of this, even with the balloon deflated, is what will replace that enthusiasm in technology’s absence? For if it is not a return to religion, I don’t even wish to imagine what awaits us around that corner.

Suggested Readings

  • The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman.
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman.
  • Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education, Neil Postman.
  • Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Neil Postman.
  • The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul.

Is Religion Fighting For Its Life?

Neil Postman posits in his book, Technopoly:

“It is still both possible and useful to distinguish a tool-using culture from a technocracy. In a technocracy, tools play a central role in the thought-world of the culture. Everything must give way, in some degree, to their development. The social and symbolic worlds become increasingly subject to the requirements of that development. Tools are not integrated into the culture; they attack the culture. They bid to become the culture. As a consequence, tradition, social mores, myth, politics, ritual, and religion have to fight for their lives.”

Along with this I talk about the role of theology in society, do women obey Islam and men follow the Sunnah?, tradition, hermeneutics and hijab amongst other things in this podcast.

Extra Reads

Hijab and Havaianas from altmuslimah. This is what I refer to in the podcast.

Tackling Religious Literacy: Lexical Empiricism – a deeper look at the ritual of wudu’ and hermeneutics.

Musings on Technopoly and When Technology Wounds

“Most technology survivors lose all or part of their hero system*. Long-Standing, fundamental beliefs about themselves and the world can shatter into irretrievable fragments. One’s identity can be the first to go.” Chellis Glendinning, When Technology Wounds.

Are people losing their identities by using the Internet, Facebook, and other technologies that allow a so-called anonymous interface? And how do we deal with this in light of our descent from a culture of shame to a culture of humiliation? More thoughts on books from the Summer Reading List 2012.