Wendell Berry on Machines

Wendell Berry writes in his essay, Feminism, the Body, and the Machine, about another essay he wrote in Harpers in which Berry details his reasons for not choosing to buy a computer. Harpers received several critical responses from readers of Berry’s piece and Feminism, the Body, and the machine is a response to his critics. The essay was written in 1989 but is timely today. Berry’s themes are exactly what the title would indicate; he responds to feminism, how to body and work interact, and what the machine is doing to human life, which were also the main themes of his criticism. I think the essay is worth reading. Please overlook the irony that I am blogging about someone who refused to buy a computer.

Berry writes:

“… But a computer, I am told, offers a kind of help that you can’t get from other humans; a computer will help you to write faster, easier, and more. For a while it seemed to me that every university professor I met told me this. Do I, then, want to write faster, easier, and more? No. My standards are not speed, ease, and quantity. I have already left behind too much evidence that, writing with a pencil, I have written too fast, too easily, and too much. I would like to be a better writer, and for that I need help from other humans, not a machine.”

This quote struck me as something wonderful because it deals in questioning the underlying assumptions of our culture. It brings up this itching feeling that we have been using the word “need” all wrong. We may not “need” what we think we need. In fact, we may simply want it, and our wanting may be undoing things that should not have been undone.

A culture’s technological advances serve its idols. Computers make sense for a lot of reasons, one of which being that our culture idolizes speed, ease, and quantity. Living Christianly in such a culture means living in such a way that questions the underlying assumptions, and finding a way to live under the rule of the real God, not the rule of smaller ones. The Church ought to be different, and anyone who really experiences the Church should experience that difference as something incredibly beautiful – because the difference sifts down like snow from a God who is incredibly beautiful. That challenge lays a question at our feet: how different will we be and why?

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