What’s Your Tech Diet?

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“…all the present arts and sciences, inventions and discoveries man has brought forth were once mysteries which nature had decreed should remain hidden and latent, but man has taken them out of the plane of the invisible and brought them into the plane of the visible.”

– ‘Abdu’l-Baha

“…technology is the programming of nature. It is a capturing of phenomena and a harnessing of these to human purposes.”
– W. Brian Author

Smart Phones. Hybrid Cars. Genetically Modified Foods. Social Networking. Blogging. Stem Cell Research. Cloning. Teleportation… why not? As I type away on my iPad and check the weather outside on my Android phone, all while putting some thoughts together on a post on technology, makes me feel like I’m in some sort of Inception storyline where I am entirely unsure where the rabbit-hole leads.

I was an old-school hold-out on having a cell phone in the earliest years of this century but faced the unshakeable reality that I needed to engage with the new technologies that emerged to gain an understanding of their usefulness (or lack thereof) and potential application. My questions then were: “What’s the point of texting?” and “What is best conveyed in an email or chat and what warrants a phone or face-to-face conversation?” Fast forward a decade, and I find that massive numbers of gadgets, machines and even systems have emerged with the recurring crowd commentary on whether the pervasive influences of said advances are helping or hurting us.

The approach that I take in understanding reality informs me that the technology’s impact on us is far from simple. Linked to this ongoing discourse on technology is a deeper discussion: means and ends, reflections on technological choice and a thoughtful delving into how technology can be used to enhance the individual and community’s ability to generate and apply knowledge. Discussion on these topics will likely inform a larger discussion on technology, its merits and impacts.

I recently was made aware of two types of knowledge referred to by Baha’u’llah: “ilm”, which refers to knowledge gained by the use of reason, investigation and sensory perception; and “irfán”, which refers to spiritual insight, awareness and inner knowledge. The question I ask myself is: Are the choices involved with the construction of my technological diet informed by both types of knowledge? Have I ignored any evaluative tools at my disposal?

I know that I have to peel myself away from video games and Internet browsing, often times in order to do things that I know are valuable – like eating and interacting with other human beings. I know that I’m not remotely skilled enough to produce any of the gadgets that have become fixtures in my home environment. I have sat in the same room with my friends and played cards with them on our respective devices, hardly ever speaking to each other. So how does one start?

One tool that I’ve become intimately familiar with lately is “reflection.” As I reflect on where this rabbit hole leads, I discover that it leads in directions that I’ve not even considered: How much of what I consume is of my choosing? Am I eating food that disenfranchises farmers around the globe through practices that make them dependent on corporate seeds? Can I fix my iPad when it fails? Have I been forced to adapt to technology or was I actively involved with the chosen applications that exist? To what extent has my personal life been enriched or diminished by the Internet? How can I more readily use the two types of knowledge above to assess my technological diet?

Oak Ritchie is a native of South Carolina, and has lived all over the East Coast and the Caribbean. He presently lives in Carrboro, NC, where he is working with a variety of visual mediums and blogs at Steady Flow.

1 Comment

  1. Steven

    11 May, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I might be interesting to note that Abdu’l-Baha was the first member of His family to use a phone, to ride a car, to travel by oceanliner, and sent many many telegrams. But we don’t observe Him as a cutting edge tech user. The Message must remain clear and radiant even as we use technologies to their fullest. Some relevant quotes:

    “The Baha’is should not always be the last to take up new and obviously excellent methods but rather the first, as this agrees with the dynamic nature of the Faith which is not only progressive, but holds within itself the seeds of an entirely new culture and civilization.”
    From a letter dated 5 May 1946 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, in Design for Victory: 1976-1979 (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1976), pg. 13.

    “Surely the invincible arm of Baha’u’llah, working through strange and mysterious ways, will continue to guard and uphold, to steer the course, to consolidate, and eventually to achieve the world-wide recognition and triumph of His holy Faith.”
    Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p.150.

    The Guardian also indicates that one of the purposes of Baha’u’llah in designing such flexibility into the structure of the Administrative Order of the Faith is that “whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into [the machinery of the Cause] in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, [could] be safely embodied therein….”
    Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 22-3.

    “A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvelous swiftness and perfect regularity.”
    Shoghi Effendi — 11 March 1936, published in “The World Order ofBaha’u’llah: Selected Letters”, BPT(US) 1938 (1974) p. 203