ISSUE No. 19 | March 2022
If you’re new to CULTIVARE we welcome you! CULTIVARE is a monthly field guide for life and faith, brought to you by TEND. Each month we explore a specific “field” – a topic or theme through which we seek to cultivate contemplation, engagement, and deeper understanding. Our guiding questions are:
What are you cultivating in your life?
What fruit do you want your life to bear?
Each issue of CULTIVARE is structured into three parts:
Cultivate: Examines a specific “Field” or facet of life and offers questions to unearth and challenge our held perspective; along with concise kernels of truth which we call “Seeds.”
Irrigate: Explores the ways we nurture our understanding, which varies from individual to individual. We offer six means of irrigation: Art, Poetry, Profile, Film, Essay, and Books.
Germinate: Encourages practical ways to engage in becoming more fruitful and free in our lives.
Our name, CULTIVARE, in Spanish means “I will cultivate.” We hope each issue of our field guide will encourage you to do just that – cultivate new thoughts, actions, faith, hope, and fruitful living. We invite you to dig in and DIG DEEP!
For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.
(I Corinthians 3:9)
Our theme this month is TECHNOLOGY AND FORMATION. Technology has been around for ages – ever since the creation of craftsman tools. But the type and topography of technology has evolved to a level unparalleled and unyielding today. In this digital age, the Christ follower must be attentive and astute to both the promises and pitfalls of technology.
The famed media theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan once wrote: “First we build the tools, then they build us.” Which leads us to the questions:
What technologies have been most formative in your life?
In what ways has technology brought you closer to others and to Christ?
In what ways has technology distanced you from others and to Christ?
As you reflect on your life, what questions about technology do you need to confront?
In this issue we profile the media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman who in 1985 wrote: “People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” We feature contemporary artist Joyce Yu-Jean Lee who looks at the ways the act of seeing is impacted by technology. We feature the poetry of Rudyard Kipling and an insightful essay by Pope Benedict XVI. And our Book of the Month offers helpful suggestions for families seeking practical wisdom in their engagement with technology.
The tragic and heart-wrenching events unfolding in Ukraine have shed torturous light on the use of technology. From the technology-driven tools of war – to the threats of cyber-attacks – to the many Western tech companies distancing themselves from Russia – to the media outlets reporting the atrocities – technology is playing a central role in this tragedy. It is imperative that we pay attention and remain alert. To quote Marshall McLuhan once again: “There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.” (DG)
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 NASB)
In Jerusalem he made devices invented for use on the towers and on the corner defenses so that soldiers could shoot arrows and hurl large stones from the walls. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful. (2 Chronicles 26:15 NIV)
Someone will say, "I am allowed to do anything." Yes; but not everything is good for you. I could say that I am allowed to do anything, but I am not going to let anything make me its slave.
(1 Corinthians 6:12 GNT)
A handful of quotes to contemplate and cultivate into your life
Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master. (Christian Lous Lange)
Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose. (Neil Postman)
Technology is one of the most completely known parts of the human experience, yet of its essence— the deep nature of its being— we know little. (W. Brian Arthur)
Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. (Arthur Schlesinger)
With the invention of the clock, Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. (Neil Postman)
Technology improves the lives of people who can avoid being dominated by it and forced into debilitating addictions to it. (Frank Kaufmann)
The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall. (Edward O. Wilson)
Many of the dangers we face indeed arise from science and technology—but, more fundamentally, because we have become powerful without becoming commensurately wise. The world-altering powers that technology has delivered into our hands now require a degree of consideration and foresight that has never before been asked of us.
Artist of the Month
Joyce Yu-Jean Lee
Joyce Yu-Jean Lee is a visual artist working with video, digital photography, and interactive installation that combine social practice with institutional change. Curious about how the act of seeing is transformed by technology, her artwork examines how mass media and visual culture shape notions of truth and understanding of the “other.”
Her project about Internet censorship, FIREWALL, garnered backlash from Chinese state authorities in 2016 and has been exhibited at Lincoln Center in New York City, the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway, The Hong Kong Center for Community Cultural Development – Green Wave Art, and the Austrian Association of Women Artists (VBKO) in Vienna.
Lee’s artwork has been written about in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Hong Kong Free Press, China Digital Times, Apple Daily Taiwan, Huffington Post, and been featured by James Coomarasamy on BBC Radio.
Rebecca Locke, a New York City-based artist and curator, offers this description of Lee’s work: Joyce Yu-Jean Lee’s work is full of surprises. It is both sublime, and mesmerizing. Were her work static it would constitute a focal point, a centerpiece, yet her moving and changing images beckon the viewer, imploring them to stay, to reflect, to think. Lee’s subject matter is the here and now, the world of our collective experience explored through her performance and video-based artworks which in part contemplate globalization, society, mass media, commercialism and labor inequality. (Curator Magazine)
We invite you to learn more about Joyce Yu-Jean Lee’s art at her website:
The Secret of the Machines (excerpts)
We were taken from the ore-bed and the mine,
We were melted in the furnace and the pit—
We were cast and wrought and hammered to design,
We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit.
Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
And a thousandth of an inch to give us play:
And now, if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!
We can pull and haul and push and lift and drive,
We can print and plough and weave and heat and light,
We can run and race and swim and fly and dive,
We can see and hear and count and read and write!...
Though our smoke may hide the Heavens from your eyes,
It will vanish and the stars will shine again,
Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain!
By Jason Miller
“Stated in the most dramatic terms, the accusation can be made that the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity. It creates a culture without a moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living. Technology, in sum, is both friend and enemy.” This quote from Neil Postman in his book Technopoly underscores why we chose to profile him for this month’s Cultivare. Postman, while certainly not the only critic, is one of the earliest, most articulate, and outspoken critics of the technological age.
Postman was born to a Jewish family in New York City. He would receive his Doctorate from the renowned Teachers College at Columbia University and serve his vocational career as a professor at New York University. At NYU he would found their Ecology of Media program and chair the department of Culture and Communication. Postman describes the Ecology of Media using the metaphor of a petri-dish: If in biology a 'medium' is something in which a bacterial culture grows (as in a Petri dish), in media ecology, the medium is 'a technology within which a [human] culture grows’. It is this question-- of the capacity of technology not simply to influence but to spawn culture-- that seems to permeate his societal critiques.
Always the educator, Postman was a prolific writer who would author 20 books and over 200 articles. Perhaps his most well-known book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business was published in 1985. In this book, Postman stands as an inconvenient fence across the pathway that many Americans strolled to their television sets. However, do not confuse this with one-dimensional thinking, as it was entertainment at large, and the growing variety of mediums for entertainment, that he attempted to shine a light on. As Megan Garber identified in a 2017 article for The Atlantic, Postman questioned a culture where “good” professors entertained their classes, Presidential debates were graded on the performance, and “televangelists of the time brought an infomercial feel to the experience of faith.” This angst surrounding the shaping nature of technological entertainment is summarized by Postman: “Our priests and presidents, our surgeons and lawyers, our educators and newscasters need worry less about satisfying the demands of their discipline than the demands of good showmanship.”
We may not agree with every salient point of Postman’s perspective. Certainly, as a critique of culture, he makes some strong and polarizing observations. However, we invite you to get to know this man and his writings as he has proven to be an early prophetic voice to our ever increasingly technological age. Read his writings, engage his critiques, allow yourself to take a personal inventory of your relationship with technology. Heed the call posed by Postman to be thoughtful when expounding on Huxley’s Brave New World — he states, “it was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”
Each month we recommend films focused on our theme
WALL-E is a rather well-known feature film from Disney/Pixar. We chose it for the variety of ways it engages the conversation surrounding humanity and technology. The first act involves only pantomime with the main character, a robot who Pixar calls “the loneliest character they had worked with.” Technology tends to increase efficiency at the cost of intimacy. The film’s plot explores what makes robots and humans different--identified by Pixar as curiosity, inquisitiveness, and a sense of loneliness. We invite you to explore how humanity is shaped by technology and how technology must at times mirror the humanity of its creators.
The Social Dilemma
The power of social media to connect with the ubiquity of human need is both impressive and, it turns out, insidiously designed -- such is the premise of the The Social Dilema. The documentary is directed by Jeff Orlowski who previously directed Chasing Coral and Chasing Ice. Neil Minow from RogerEbert.com suggests this could be aptly titled Chasing Us. There is no doubt this documentary has an agenda, however its revelations regarding how the world of social media works, how capitalism informs its decisions, and what is known of the science behind the end user’s brain are important and illuminating points to ponder.
5 Short Films about Technology
We know we are taking a bit of a risk here. This comedic tragedy is admittedly not for all audiences. Its premise explores 5 topics of technology, including among other things, the reality of porn accessibility, which we acknowledge some may find offensive. Its brilliance is in its ability to identify the ways technology may blind us to the reality we are surrounded by while depersonalizing what could be meaningful relationships along the way.
What Make Technology So Habit Forming
This Ted Talk by Nir Eyal breaks down the psychology of online engagement: hook, internal triggers, action, reward and investments. He points out that 40% of all human behavior is habitual, but he then turns the narrative, asking the audience to consider how using this knowledge could actually help people to live more healthy, productive lives.
Pope Benedict XVI and Technology
By Ivan Kenneally
In this month’s short essay from First Things, we offer you an excerpt from Caritas in Veritate in which Pope Benedict XVI addresses technology as the appropriate outplay of human dominion over creation. From this framework a critique is offered: too much attention to the “how” and too little attention to the “why” of technology hinders us from recognizing an idolization of “doing” to the demise of our true human freedom – “being.”
Each month we recommend a book focused on our theme
Tech Wise Family
Making conscientious choices about technology in our families is more than just using internet filters and determining screen time limits for our children. It's about developing wisdom, character, and courage in the way we use digital media rather than accepting technology's promises of ease, instant gratification, and the world's knowledge at our fingertips. And it's definitely not just about the kids.
Drawing on in-depth original research from the Barna Group, Andy Crouch shows readers that the choices we make about technology have consequences we may never have considered. He takes readers beyond the typical questions of what, where, and when and instead challenges them to answer provocative questions like, Who do we want to be as a family? and How does our use of a particular technology move us closer or farther away from that goal? Anyone who has felt their family relationships suffer or their time slip away amid technology's distractions will find in this book a path forward to reclaiming their real life in a world of devices.
Practical suggestions to help you go deeper into our theme
1. REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS ON TECHNOLOGY
Devote some time and thought to these reflective questions on our theme:
a. How often is some form of technology on, and with me, throughout the day/the week?
b. How “normative” does this technology feel to my daily experience?
c. How often do I check for texts, calls, emails, or social media posts?
Why is immediacy so important to me?
d. What are ways I have used technology to become a better person?
e. What are ways technology has made me less connected and attentive to God,
myself, and others?
2. TECHNOLOGY AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION
So then what is a spiritually formative view of technology? This is the question considered by Rev. Matt Leitzen, considering “how God, the ultimate creator of any technology, wants us to relate to those around us. View Now
3. DIGITAL MEDIA AND YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE: AN UNEASY BALANCE
For those who want to dive deeper still, this academic article by Laurel Dovich explores the malleability of the brain and how this elasticity intersects with fostering healthy technological habits. View Now
4. THREE TECH RESOURCES TO AID YOUR SPIRITUAL FORMATION
Here are three (3) tech-related resources that we are aware have positively impacted individuals’ lives. We encourage you to check them out:
a. PRAY AS YOU GO – Daily devotional app and online
b. LECTIO 365 – Daily devotional app
c. THE BIBLE PROJECT - The Bible is one unified story that leads to Jesus, but we don't always treat it that way. The Bible Project makes animated videos that explore the books and themes of the Bible.
5. A PRAYER FOR TECHNOLOGY AND SPIRITUAL FORMATION
by Sister Cathy Campbell
Spirit of love and connectivity,
originator of emerging technologies,
and ever evolving intelligences,
you give me both a gift and challenge.
Help me choose wisely
amid the endless tweets and
plethora of knowledge that daily
saturate my consciousness.
Immerse me in the power of your Providence.
Let it always be the well of wisdom from which I can draw meaning
to make sense of the madness
of my life. That’s enough for me.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)
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Images used in order of appearance:
2. SEEDS: Photo from Interesting Engineering, Photographer unknown, Free Photos/Pixaby
3. ART: Joyce Yu-Jean Lee. All images used from the artist’s website: https://joyceyujeanlee.com/
4. POETRY: Oliver Frank Hilpoltstein, Iron Forge Photo Shoot, Behance
5. PROFILE: Photo from Science Centre, Singapore, Photographer unknown; https://www.science.edu.sg/whats-on/singapore-science-festival/festival-highlights/inventions-that-changed-the-world
6. FILM: Martin Skovajsa, Old Camera, Public Domain.
7. ESSAYS: Spencer Grant, Old-fashioned PBX switchboard at NE Life Insurance Co., Copley Square, Back Bay, 1972, Boston Public Library
8. BOOKS: Photo from Wikipedia, Peter Small demonstrating the use of the Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum, Flickr: PrintMus038
9. DIG DEEPER: Dental Office, 1950, Photographer unknown, Shorpy
10. ROOTED: Old Garden Tools, Photographer unknown, https://www.re-foundobjects.com/product/view/old-garden-tools
TEAM CULTIVARE: Duane Grobman (Editor), Lori Andrews, Elizabeth Bolsinger, Billy Brummel, Ben Hunter, Eugene Kim, Andrew Massey, Rita McIntosh, Jason Miller, Jason Pearson (Design: Pearpod.com)