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Tim RyanJune 24, 20247 min read

Happiness and Technology: Level 4 and Series Conclusion

We need to address another dynamic that has contributed to this growth in technology over the last few decades. 

As mentioned in the introduction to this series, one of the primary intentions of labor-saving technologies over the years was supposed to be to help simplify our lives and enable us to spend more time lifting our minds and spirits. The problem is that, while in some cases we’ve done this, I think that, for the most part, we’ve gone in the opposite direction. Instead of simplifying our lives, we have succeeded in making things more complicated. As we’ve made things more complex, the more we need technology to help us manage it. 

Do you see where I’m going with this? 

Case in point: In one of my adventures as an IT professional over the years, I worked in a bank that was bought out by another bank. As part of the acquisition, it was necessary to convert data systems to a common environment. One hundred years ago, a bank clerk could track a few basic pieces of data for a loan on a paper ledger. In working on this data conversion, I was amazed at how much data we retain in databases on just one loan now. There is no way a bank clerk 100 years ago would have been able to manage that volume of data on the thousands of loans that a bank manages today. We’ve taken advantage of computers and made things more complicated, and now we need a computer to manage that complexity. 

The Singularity

In 2005, Ray Kurzweil wrote a book called The Singularity is Near. Kurzweil is a past Director of Engineering at Google. In this book, he predicted that given the rate of technology growth over the previous few decades, sometime in the 2030s or 2040s, we’d experience what he coined as the “technological singularity,” which will be the point at which technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics will surpass the capabilities of human beings, and that humans may essentially merge with machines. Some view this as a means for humans to achieve immortality, giving us the ability to break the bonds of our frail and aging organic bodies. Many of these same people see this as a very noble endeavor, that maybe this even fulfills God’s directive to subdue the earth and for humans to participate in the process of creation. Maybe this hybrid human/machine is just the next stage in human evolution.

In contrast, consider the thoughts of Soren Kierkegaard in the early 1800s when he wrote a discourse on Matthew 6:25-34, the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus enjoins us not to worry about our lives:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." —Matthew 6:25-34 (RSV)

In this discourse, The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air, Kierkegaard speaks to the merits of simplicity. Kierkegaard contrasts simplicity with shrewdness. Webster defines shrewdness as “clever discerning,” “hard-header acumen,” and “given to wily and artful ways of dealing.” This is where complexity rears its head. The more we devise ways to “cleverly and artfully” make more money or achieve our own immortality, the more complicated we make things, particularly when applying our limited mortal intellect. 

Born In Complexity

Shrewdness often results in complexity, requiring advanced technology. In shrewdness, our minds are busy calculating our next move, and in that mode, Kierkegaard observes that when we are not silent and listening for God’s guidance, we are are more susceptible to the deceptions of the enemy, which typically sends us down the wrong path.

"All suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction"  —Dalai Lama XIV

Our technology can only capture that which we humans put into it. Even if it is something that is learned, such as in the case of Artificial Intelligence, it will only reflect the finite paradigm that we humans impose upon it. All finite knowledge we have captured on computers or in robots, regardless of how complex the set of rules, boils down to a binary sequence of 0’s and 1’s until we get into Quantum Computing (a whole new dimension of complexity) and as such, how could that possibly reflect any form of divine wisdom? Which thus leaves our intellect, and that of our machines, incomplete.

Human Hubris and Figuring It Out

But in our human hubris and ignorance, we still think we can figure it all out for ourselves, and instead of recognizing that we can’t and stepping back to reassess, we double down and try harder to make something work.

A simple but illustrative example of this is something I’ve seen throughout my IT career. Instead of going back to rework the code to fix a bug, many programmers just wrote more code on top of what they already had to get the answer they were looking for. This just added to the complexity of the system while covering up the fundamental problem. Such is our lives, so often when we have problems, instead of going back to simplicity and returning to God, we just try harder (hard-headed acumen) to get the answer WE want, which only serves to complicate things and cover up the fundamental problem. Isn’t this how medicine works these days? Oh, this drug isn’t solving your diabetes or depression problem, or is it causing these side effects? Well, then take this other drug on top of it to “fix it.”

Root Cause Analysis

In another of my professional adventures, I was trained as a trainer in quality improvement techniques. One of the lessons that stuck with me was root cause analysis. When there is a problem in the system causing a quality issue, the first step is to “stop the bleeding,” put a quick fix in place in order to keep things running, but then immediately turn to root cause analysis to determine the fundamental problem. Once the root cause is identified, we devise a permanent solution and replace the quick fix. These days, we tend to believe that the quick fix is the permanent solution because we’re unable to figure out the root cause of the fundamental problem because of the complexity we’ve created. 

This brings us back to my premise in the previous post: how technology (specifically Artificial Intelligence) may be serving to short-circuit our true intellect. As things become more complex, we are less inclined to spend the time necessary to figure out the root cause of a problem. We seem to be perfectly content just “pushing the button” and turning to the quick fix to get our answer, which, when rooted in our flawed system, just causes us more problems. 

Can We Use Technology to Reach True Happiness?

So, what’s the answer? Do we throw out our technology? Absolutely not, but we need to find the right balance and recognize the limitations of our mortal creations. In humility and contemplation, we need to silence our calculating minds in the presence of God and trust in something that will perfect our intellect rather than relying on our limited mortal perspective. This can only be achieved in simple surrender to God’s wisdom.


Tim Ryan

Tim Ryan has worked for over thirty years in the secular workplace as an information technology professional in both consultative and executive roles. Throughout his career, he recognized the importance of relationships and a sense of purpose in the effective performance of organizations. This recognition evolved into a set of skills related to strategic planning and organizational development. He soon recognized how these principles coalesced with theological values that extol the need for a shared vision, values, and meaning. His recognition led him to an academic pursuit, resulting in a Master of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University New Orleans, emphasizing spirituality in the workplace and marketplace ministry. Tim has been trained in Fr. Spitzer's content for 15 years and started working for the Spitzer Center in 2017.