Virtually Human — virtually essential reading
A book about our fast-changing digital world has the potential to be out of date and irrelevant faster than you can say ‘Google plus’. Thankfully, Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas’ Virtually Human skillfully avoids this trap.
In two main parts it begins with the theory and theology of technology, followed by practical applications and insights for us today. But we don’t leave theology behind at this junction, there’s biblical insight and application from start to finish.
The story of technology is unpacked through the lens of the Bible, looking at its nature, purposes and potential. It’s not technology itself that can be innately good or bad, and in fact we read that God knows the good in technology because its goodness comes from him. But we do need to be wise in our choice to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the way we use technology, and knowing and making that choice is important. We’re encouraged to spend more time praising God for technology, not just for nice flowers or beautiful landscapes — for technology is a window on God’s glory.
An expose on our perceptions of the passage of time is fascinating, and essential to our understanding of technology. The section on sex in the age of the Internet is necessary and carefully navigated, as are the revealing insights into Facebook addiction. Brooks and Nicholas don’t leave you feeling either guilty or overwhelmed, an important tone to take for a book of this genre and subject matter. You’re more likely to feel strengthened in your battle to carve some Bible-time out of your social media treadmill. I know I did, even with such stark realities brought home to me. Woven into the narrative of the book is that Jesus looks at us with a life-giving look, a look of liberty. Wonderfully true and precious this is.
I would have liked a fuller exploration of the theme of ‘Wisdom’, introduced late in the book. For me it’s something the church is breathless for, particularly when it comes to the digital world. Even though the whole book is full of great threads of wisdom, I feel it could have reached this peak and surveyed the landscape for a little longer.
I also wanted to read more on how to navigate a culture of hyper-choice. When bombarded with so many messages and images I struggle to know what to choose to give my attention to at every given moment, everyone does. Should I even be reading this book? I didn’t know. But I’m glad I did.
As followers of Christ we are to be in the world, but not belong to the world. We belong to God (see John 15:19). Brooks and Nicholas helpfully frame this within a digital context. Augmented and virtual reality devices may help us ‘see the world better’, but we’ll always see it best through the lens of God’s great plan for humanity as revealed in the Bible. Virtually Human is virtually essential reading for anyone who wants to know what it means to be an effective Christian disciple in the digital age.
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Read an abridged version of this review in the Christian Medical Fellowship’s Triple Helix Spring 2017 journal, for whom this review was originally commissioned.