“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” John 1:14
I’ve been thinking about the incarnation recently. What does it mean that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us?
In our increasingly disembodied world—where everything exists in the cloud and we interact with each other mostly through screens or blips of digital communication—what have we gained and lost when it comes to understanding and valuing the incarnation?
I was interested and a little disturbed by the news that Facebook recently spent $2 billion to acquire Oculus VR, a virtual reality tech startup. But I wasn’t all that surprised. Social media already perpetuates a “virtual” reality where we perform, pontificate, emote, and express ourselves differently than we would in the real world. It’s only natural that enhancing the virtual experience of reality is the direction we are going.
But I worry about that. I worry about losing a sense of awe and wonder about the real and the physically incarnate.
Technology can connect us to anyone and anything with just a few clicks. But what about our connection to the physical world? What about being present in the glorious lands and spaces we inhabit? When I walk down the street, passing people who have their heads buried in their phones, I lament. When I’m having coffee with someone and he checks his phone every few minutes, I grow weary.
Don’t get me wrong; technology in itself isn’t a bad thing. In an important sense, technology is a testament to the creative brilliance of humankind to invent tools for living well. But I often feel like a certain trajectory of technology—to make things more efficient, to save time, to make everything on earth immediately accessible—has grave implications for our future.
We must be conscious of how the technologies that are inserting themselves into our lives in seemingly small ways are actually changing our whole manner of being. As Neil Postman observes in his book Technopoly:
“A new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything. In the year 1500, fifty years after the printing press was invented, we did not have old Europe plus the printing press. We had a different Europe. After television, the United States was not America plus television; television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry.”
This is not (necessarily) to say technology always changes everything for the worse; it’s just that it does change everything. Our task is to observe those changes and evaluate them. If what we discover is disturbing, we must do something to course correct. We must be willing to admit when and how a technology is helping or harming us, or when a technology is altering some fundamental aspect of our human-ness.
As Christians who believe in the incarnation of Christ and the redeemable goodness of the physical world—including physical bodies—that God created, we must think critically about the values being subtly perpetuated through the disembodying technologies of our time, without deifying or demonizing these technologies. Are they values that undermine something important to who we are as followers of Christ? We must think about these questions while acknowledging technology’s incredible power to shape our world and the way we live.
Originally published in Issue 18 of Converge Magazine.
photo by Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter