As the technology teacher at a middle school folks often assume I am eternally enthusiastic about all things technological.
True, I do have my iPod firmly plugged into my cranium, but I am not typing into my laptop. I’m sketching out my ideas in my Moleskine, a little blank book (but my pen does have a laser pointer!).
Hmmm... I suppose there is more to a pen than one might think. A ball point pen is a technological wonder. The flow of ink, carefully regulated by a precisely engineered ball bearing set in a precisely engineered reservoir is a boon to writers and artists the world over.
The “trick” in using technology is choosing the right tool for the task at hand.
That is a primary goal of my curriculum. I teach my students to think dispassionately about technology and choose the best tools to express themselves.
I tell them that if the only tool they have is a hammer, then every problem starts to look like a nail. They respond with blank stares. This sort of metaphor is a little beyond them.
“Pretend that all your life the only tool you have ever had is a hammer. You use it to pound nails. When the nails are bent you use it to pound them straight. When you need to move something a little bit you tap it with the hammer. When you want to move it a lot you hit it with the hammer, and when you get frustrated you smash it with the hammer.
“Now imagine you have a board you want to use, but it is way too long. You have the board, and you have your hammer. What are you probably going to do?”
Now they start to get it.
“SMASH IT WITH THE HAMMER!!!”
“Now pretend I show you a saw. I show you how to hold it, how to score the wood with it, how to make it cut efficiently. Which tool are you going to use to divide that board?”
That is my job, showing them new tools, new skills, exhorting them to think of new ways to express themselves. Would a Keynote presentation be best, or a video? Would a web site be more interactive and informative, or a Macromedia Flash project?
Sometimes the best tool is the simpler one. Sometimes the best tool for a job is a pen or a pencil, not a computer.
A drawing can be done quickly, more efficiently with a pencil than a mouse and keyboard.
Technology can solve a lot of problems, help us, all of us, to escape the dangers which beset us. But it needs to be tempered with wisdom, with ethics. That is the catch. Nearly every advance in science has been accompanied with sorrows.
Technology cannot provide us with a moral compass. Without wisdom, without understanding, the technology we grasp hurts us.
It sounds noble to compare science to Prometheus snatching fire from the gods, but it is perhaps more accurate comparing it to early man setting his hair on fire from a lightning-struck tree.
For example, the internet has the power to democratize the world, but in the meantime it seduces, perverts, our children, our brothers and sisters.
This is true for every technological advantage we have grasped with our clumsy hands.
Humanity has, perhaps, the ethical maturity to handle the technology found within a bicycle, no more.
I think we are all born with a tiny moral compass, like the dime sized one I got in a Cracker Jack box when I was five.
It points north, telling us where we should be heading. But it is easy to make it point wherever we want. All we need do is wave the iron-filled objects of our desires closely to our hearts. The sliver of our personal moral compass will waver, and swing where we would have it, at the ferric baubles we crave.
How do we develop a better, stronger, moral compass?
Step one: Keep our shiny, steely, desires away from our hearts, put them out of reach, filter them away from our lives, lock them away.
Step two: Watch that compass closely. Let it grow large in our sight, lay it frequently on the maps within scripture and prayer that it may dominate our sight, fill our vision so we are not distracted by tchotckes and knick knacks.
We know where it points. Every compass on this spinning glob of dirt which is apart from metal distractions points at the fount of magnetic energy pumping out of the heart, the center, of this world.
The metaphorical, theological fount for our hearts, our souls, is the glorious, loving presence of the Lord God Almighty.
The titanic glory of Earth’s magnetic field is displayed most greatly when it reacts to the storms of space, lighting up the world with brilliant aurora.
So too does the truth of God’s power within our lives shine brilliantly when storms wash over us. Like everyone else in this world my heart aches at the buffeting of sorrows, from within and without.
We are pleased with our accomplishments, with the skills we develop, the tools we accumulate. It is good to have a hammer. It is good to have a saw. It is even better to have a guide for the use of the tools we have.
Mankind tends to glory in new tools, like a man with a $5,000 gift certificate to Home Depot. Unfortunately mankind does not have the wisdom to handle such shiny metallic toys close to its collective heart (I grew up in the age of duck and cover drills).
There is something beautiful within my heart, something that is lovely and serene and glorious which lifts my spirit and sustains me. Within my heart is a lodestone imprinted with the proof of an eternal God. It’s the most precious thing I own.