Jacques Ellul used the word “technique” to describe the mechanism befalling our modern society. When there’s a problem, we want the solution. When something isn’t fast enough, add the gears, the software updates, the weight loss pills, the trip to McDonald’s, etc. But suppose that mentality has seeped into the discourse surrounding mental health? Is there a quick-fix solution to debilitating depression and anxiety? Is there a pill for just that general sense of sadness and emptiness?
Alan Noble is an Associate Professor at Oklahoma Baptist University and the author of a new book called On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden & Gift of Living. In it, Dr. Noble recognizes how a technique mindset is insufficient in addressing the wide range of mental struggles people deal with daily. It depends on a reductionistic understanding of the human person. Noble writes,
Living in a society governed by technique conditions us to believe that in every way life is easier than it ever has been. Technique is the use of rational methods to maximize efficiency, and we see it everywhere: time-saving technology, apps that maximize our workouts, drugs that drown out our anxiety, ubiquitious entertainment in our pockets, and scientifically proven methods for parenting, working, eating, shopping, budgeting, folding clothes, sleeping, sex, dating, and buying a car. The promise of technique is that we are collectively overcoming all the challenges of life through research, technology, and discipline (p. 11).
While the technological advancements Noble mentions have done wonders for many people, he notes the temptation to depend on them to solve what might be a deeper, perhaps even spiritual, malaise.
This is the double-edged sword of technological progress, where we’re more comfortable, live longer, and are wealthier compared to previous generations and yet are still faced with the daily toil of life. We may live with greater comfort, but that doesn’t mean we live with a greater sense of meaning.
Noble goes on to encourage the reader to make those small choices, such as getting out of bed, to combat the seeming futility of modern life. We need to affirm that life and our place in the world are good and should be treated as a gift –– one that we’re responsible for stewarding. “Your task is to be faithful: to do the next thing,” he writes.
One can’t help but wonder if AI technologies will make it even more tempting to try and offload the daily struggles of life to the machine –– to “technique.” With AI “girlfriends” abounding and the idea of places like therapy centers employing AI to counsel patients, it’s getting harder than ever to sit with the discomfort of being human and experience one’s inner world with honesty and courage. For that reason, I’d recommend Noble’s book, and echo his wisdom: even when you don’t feel like it, keep getting out of bed.