How Tech Despair Can Set You Free

Essay by Samuel Matlack: “One way to look at the twentieth century is to say that nations may rise and fall but technical progress remains forever. Its sun rises on the evil and on the good, and its rain falls on the just and on the unjust. Its sun can be brighter than a thousand suns, scorching our enemies, but, with some time and ingenuity, it can also power air conditioners and 5G. One needs to look on the bright side, living by faith and not by sight.

The century’s inquiring minds wished to know whether this faith in progress is meaningfully different from blindness. Ranking high among those minds was the French historian, sociologist, and lay theologian Jacques Ellul, and his answer was simple: No.

In America, Ellul became best known for his book The Technological Society. The book’s signature term was “technique,” an idea he developed throughout his vast body of writing. Technique is the social structure on which modern life is built. It is the consciousness that has come to govern all human affairs, suppressing questions of ultimate human purposes and meaning. Our society no longer asks why we should do anything. All that matters anymore, Ellul argued, is how to do it — to which the canned answer is always: More efficiently! Much as a modern machine can be said to run on its own, so does the technological society. Human control of it is an illusion, which means we are on a path to self-destruction — not because the social machine will necessarily kill us (although it might), but because we are fast becoming soulless creatures…(More)”.