Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Technology and the Decline of Creativity (Jacques Ellul)

Store, in Bangkok
Ever read anything by French sociologist/theologian Jacques Ellul? (Greg Boyd has recently rediscovered Ellul, and quotes him a lot.) A long time ago I read Ellul's then-famous The Technological Society, and The Ethics of Freedom. There is a prophetic timelessness we get from Ellul. Here's an example, with Marva Dawn commenting on Ellul:

"Fifty years ago...  Ellul warned that technology, in spite of its many lauded gifts, also presented great dangers. Its most important threat was its development into the totality of an unremittingly encompassing milieu. He realized that human beings would become immersed in, and completely subjected to, an omnipotence made possible by the intertwining of technology, money, politics, and other forces. He protested that it would be vanity to pretend that this monolithic technical world could be checked or guided, for people would discover that they were too enclosed within their artificial creation to find an exit...
...Ellul called it a "profound mutation" because technology and its paradigm would become the defining force of civilization." 
- Marva Dawn, Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living In an Affluent Society, pp. 1-2

Technology has extended our physical being. The smartphone that the hand wields is the hand. This morph-mutation "contributes to the increasing move to "entertainments" and consumption for our moments of enjoyment." (Ib., 2)

Two Ellulian dangers of this technomorph are:

  1. that the primary criterion in a technological milieu is efficiency; and
  2. that the proliferation of means would bring about the disappearance of ends. (In Ib.)
Hence, among other things, the decline of creativity (with "ends" not in sight, and human creation guided and channeled by apps - see Gardner and Davis).