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Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age

For a wise word on technology’s tangles with truth, read Quentin Schultze’s latest book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age.

Schultze, professor of communication arts and sciences at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />CalvinCollege, engages and provokes readers with his volume about the vital difference between virtual and virtuous living.
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Virtual living embraces “informationism,” which Schultze defines as “a non-discerning, vacuous faith in … information.” Human “progress” is measured by technological gain—mere foolishness because technology alone promotes “instrumental” tasks that value efficiency, not the “noninstrumental virtues such as moderation, discernment, and humility.”
 
Schultze puts forth a compelling case. He sprinkles 200 pages with fun words—digibabble, digerati, quaqua, technophiles, pleonexia, bandwidth envy—and surrounds them with forceful arguments.
 
He acknowledges the influence of two writers on his work: 19th-century Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville and contemporary playwright and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel.
 
“We should remind ourselves,” writes Schultze, “that the actions of people in cyberspace are best regulated by ‘extra-market values,’ which Tocqueville called ‘habits of the heart.'”
 
We must cultivate the habits of the heart, Schultze argues, and bring them to bear on the cyberculture of our own creation. Otherwise, we will click aimlessly about, copying and pasting information but never finding our “moral footing.”
 
In the book’s eight chapters, Schultze discusses: discernment; moderation; wisdom; humility; authenticity; diversity; community; and the sojourn. The parts form a caring examination of who we are and where we’re going on the information superhighway. They thankfully never coalesce into a preachy diatribe about technology.
 
Schultze’s stated goal is “not so much to discard database and messaging technologies as much as to adapt them to venerable ways of life anchored in age-old virtues.” Furthermore, “dismantling all information technologies is not a realistic or even a good solution.” So to read Schultze as an anti-technology reformer is to put forth a knee-jerk reaction to what is, finally, a well-reasoned case.
 
He packs all manner of interesting technological tidbits into Habits. For example, half of the words added to the 2001 dictionary came from technology, and information technology is now the largest U.S. industry. He also recounts relevant stories from the techno-tundra.
 
For example, Schultze writes that in 1998 Japanese patrons complained about cell phones and beepers going off in public places. The government responded by forming a panel to pursue “jamming devices to block incoming messages at public places.”
 
“Although the problem was moral—a failure to be courteous citizens—the solution would be technological,” he observes.
 
We’re so busy messaging—sending data back and forth—that the messaging process itself becomes a form of “noise” that prevents us from more clearly communicating with God and each other.
 
Digital signals may put less noise in their own communicative channels of cables and satellites, but they can put more noise in our channels for relationship if we don’t use them wisely.
 
Schultze concludes the book by suggesting six practices that will help folks live virtuously among information technologies. They include “admitting the lightness of our digital being,” “distrusting the prevailing techno-magic” and “serving responsibly.”
 
Schultze knows the difference between technology and truth, between virtual and virtuous living, and he articulates it here. Now, will we discern the difference for ourselves? Can we?
 
“To be virtuous people in a high-tech world is to be neither moralists nor pragmatists,” Schultze writes, “but rather sojourners who humbly seek goodness in an eternal adventure that began before we were born and will continue after we die.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
 
Buy Habits of the High-Tech Heart from Amazon.com.
 
Read our interview with Quentin Schultze.
 
Visit Quentin Schultze’s Web site.