My Review of Craig Detweiler’s iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives

17386859I remember the first personal computer I learned to use – a First Gen IBM PC, it required me to learn MS-DOS (MicroSoft Disc Operating System). That was 1992.

Then I remember hearing about Windows 95 and bending down to watch a color monitor load something called AOL. That was 1995.

Then I heard about a free email account, FREE! It was called Juno. My pastoral colleague and I signed up for one. 1997.

By 1998, a new computer was before me and soon I was chatting in chat rooms with members of the youth group about dating and such things.

I had arrived!!!!

No, I had only started.

2001/2002 or so, started posting my sermons to a sermon website.

2007 – an invitation to join a Facebook group came to me. I thought, “I can’t join, I don’t have a college/university email address.” Turns out, I did not need one. Signed on… a few years later, signed off…then back on.

2008 or so – An article in Wired talked about a new micro-blogging platform called ‘Twitter.’ I’m in… and out…and in…and out… and in…

Blogging? What’s that? First a place on Blogger… (“How do I use this? What do I write?)… then a trip over to WordPress… 2008 and still here.

Amazon? I review books for them. Google? Used it to allow my mom to make a local call (via Google voice) that I forwarded to my cell phone when she was in two other cities undergoing medical treatment. No long distance charges with a direct connection to a local number based on a zip code. Gmail accounts? Yup have had them.

So when I read Craig Detweiler’s book iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives I was reminded of my almost 22 year digital journey and some of the implications of that journey that I need to consciously and continuously reflect on as a follower of Jesus Christ. And Detweiler, an associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University as well as an author and an award-winning filmmaker has given us something good here to use to reflect on our own digital journey.

iGods is a constructive and important work about how and why we use technology and it’s impact on our spiritual and social life. I say “constructive and important” because Detweiler seeks to both acknowledge the value and aid of technology but also asks questions that really made me put the brakes on at points and ponder the implications of my own use of tech.

As the title notes, Detweiler spends time talking about Apple and its impact on our use of technology through the development of their personal computers and products whose names are part of everyday nomenclature: Mac (Macintosh), iPod, iPhone, and iPad. As he unfolds the Apple story, he points out the spiritual fervor of Jobs and Company to make products which are revolutionary in design and function. He then turns his attention to a history of the Internet itself and how terms such as URL (uniform resources locators), HTML (hypertext transfer markup language), and browser (anyone remember Netscape?) came into existence.

Then chapters appear about Amazon and how the selling and buying of things has changed; Google, whose pursuit to make an internet search more focused, intuitive, and profitable has also created a culture and dynamic that is both admired and feared. In both cases, Detweiler raises questions about the nature of technological authority in finding answers to questions – factual and otherwise – verses the place and authority of scripture.

Detweiler then turns his attention to the prominent aspect of technology today – Social Media – and with clarity and respect, primarily chronicles Facebook with some thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and You Tube. And with regard to Facebook, he addresses the love/hate relationship many have with the site and its emotional impact on people. But in examining this impact he makes some very key thoughts and reflections on the nature of community and the need we have for it.

He concludes with some very earnest questions that forces the reader to examine his/her own use of technology and the value of efficiency which he says, “the internet has only amplified…”

I liked this book for a couple of reasons. First, the historical timeline he gives I think serves as a great tool for adults to use with children, teens, and younger adults for whom this technological world is second-nature. This book would make a great text for serious reflection in faith-communities and college classrooms about our use (consumption?) of technology today.

Second, Detweiler affirms the creative impulse as a God-given one, especially in the chapter on Apple and in his conclusion. I think that this is significant because it re-frames technology as a tool and not, as the title implies, a god to be worshiped.

Third, Detweiler does not make sweeping generalizations about technology but a surgical critique as part of a thoughtful approach to help the reader make their own thoughtful (and prayerful) determination about the use of technology in their personal, professional, and family life. In his own words, “Employ technology as a lifesaving ark, packed with God-given diversity, extending an olive branch.”

A great book. I am glad that I read it. I give it an “outstanding” rating.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book via Net Galley from the publisher Brazos Press in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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3 thoughts on “My Review of Craig Detweiler’s iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives

  1. Thanks for this. Your reading (the sheer volume and the variety) is a huge challenge, but I enjoy reading vicariously as it were!
    This was merely interesting until I reached: ‘questions about the nature of technological authority in finding answers to questions – factual and otherwise – verses the place and authority of scripture.’
    That shook me. Google verses the Bible. We even use Google to help interpret scripture: ‘I wonder what Google has to say about this verse, or this concept?’ Yet isn’t Google just a collection of all the wisdom and the nonsense of our time?
    Thanks for the warning, and the challenge.

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