Good Reads: “iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives" (2013)

Craig Detweiler uses his book “iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives” to argue for a theology of technology in the Christian world. He argues that the ever invasive and ubiquitous digital tools available in today’s society become replacements for a relationship with and reliance on God, and concludes by offering a prescriptive through his version of a technological theology. The God he is talking about is Christian in origin as is Detweiler, who teaches at Pepperdine University. The book is designed not necessarily for an academic audience but for parents, teachers, and pastors who need to help young people navigate their “hyperconnected and distracted” lives.

Detweiler begins the book by defining technology, by situating modern technology within a tradition that stretches back to the Roman Empire. He argues Jesus was a technologist of his day, using all the newest tools in his craft. He also argues that technology is art as well as science: “At its best, technology is a creative act, merging thought with matter and time,” (p. 25). Detweiler points to the many facets and affordances of technology and argues that technology is not neutral; it is a tool that can be used for good or for bad.

After laying the groundwork for the reconfiguration of technology, Detweiler discusses Steve Jobs and the cult of Mac followed by a history of the internet and ecommerce through the lens of Amazon and Google. He moves on to focus on social media including Facebook and Twitter before addressing how the demigods of technology fight for iGod status in users’ lives. The conclusion lays out his “telos of technology” that argues against the utopian, liberating theology of technology; he ends by suggesting a Christian perspective that emphasizes an “embodied, incarnational faith” in the digital world.

The literature is well supported and the content satisfactorily organized. However, there is a troubling thread of technological determinism woven throughout the book. Even the title contains deterministic language (i.e. technology shapes our lives). Detweiler is also fond of quoting Marshal McLuhan, the father of technological determinism. It would be beneficial to more clearly explicate the theories on which his view of technology rests. Although determinism seems to be prevalent throughout, Detweiler does argue that users have the agency to refocus their views and uses of technology, albeit through the guidelines of God’s Word.

As an instructor in communication technology, I can see the potential benefits of including this book in a reading list. However, instructors at public institutions would be hard-pressed to structure a class solely around this book. Detweiler’s work should be well supplemented with other texts as it provides a view of religion and technology that is limited specifically within Christian framework. As a social science researcher, the value of this book lies in its ability to clearly state a Christian theology of technology that provides a framework through which to analyze future studies within this particular community.