ANDREW GRAYSTONE is a journalist and broadcaster and a former Director of the Church and Media Network. So he knows how to write accessibly and has a gift for explaining some of the more labyrinthine features of digital culture and technology. He also has a sense of humour, as the main title of this book suggests (in reality, the contents are not as rude as one might infer).
He starts by asking the question “Are machines getting smarter?” I well remember a discussion at Edinburgh University, when I was a young lecturer, with a colleague from Artificial Intelligence. He assured me that, within a decade, machines would be brighter than humans. I am still waiting for that to happen. Wisely, Graystone concludes that machines can, indeed, do some things better than human beings (such as numerical calculations, as in chess), but that that does not actually make them intelligent. In subsequent chapters, he also assures us that there is a huge difference between a machine and a person, and, for good measure, that so-called digital sex is not to be compared to human sex.
As expected, he also has chapters about digitised information — about where we are, what we are doing, and what we are buying and selling. As we all know, surveillance is everywhere: endless cameras record our movements, and machines match our internet spending to personally targeted advertising. In some circumstances this is helpful (especially in criminal trials), but in others it might be highly intrusive. Technology in many areas of life can be used for good and ill. Digital technology, in that respect, is no different. Graystone’s many examples here are helpful.
Digital technology also makes knowledge more accessible and, sometimes, overwhelming. Encyclopaedia Britannica, he reminds us, was once sold from door to door, but now exists only virtually and, as a result, has become vast. Libraries increasingly have access to unimaginably huge “publications” that may or may not ever be published. Even church services, some predict, will increasingly become virtual.
This is not an especially deep book. It trots cheerfully through different areas and has quite a bit of repetition, albeit with plenty of homely stories. Yet its heart is in the right place, as the author suggests how digital technology can be used wisely within churches and, more widely, within society at large.
Canon Robin Gill is the editor of Theology.
Too Much Information? Ten essential questions for digital Christians
Canterbury Press £12.99
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