Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Lessons from a PhD on technological innovation for a blog on theology
A PhD is a hard way to learn a simple lesson. Today there are so many gifted people in the world and there is so much access to the means of communication that if you want to be a thinker / analyst / researcher or generally a contributor to a topic then it becomes far easier if you have a niche and can summarise it in a sentence or 2. That niche can have a broad impact but it needs to be specific enough that you can read much of the relevant material floating around.
So then the question for me becomes what is mine in that space that links Christian theology and technology.
In my research work that stems from my PhD I am interested first in how technology industries tend to locate themselves in particular cities around the world (this is a huge area of study) but second, and this is my speciality, is how these clusters of activity are linked to clusters in other cities - sometimes across the globe.
My consulting work on the other hand has focussed on understanding the value of research. At it simplest, governments increasingly want to know their return on investment on research programmes - which is a rather complex idea - but this what I have done some work on.
But what is it that I want to contribute in the field of faith?
The primary topic I feel calling me is the issue of big change and the response of Christians. It seems that we are in the era of large changes in three interdependent mega systems. Global economic structures with the growing power of Brazil, Russia India, Indonesia, China (and possibly South Africa?) [the BRIIC(S)] are changing our world. However, the natural resource base to support that shift is uncertain - this isn't just climate change but ecosystem sustainability and natural resource supply. Co-dependently, there is undoubtedly impressive gains still to be made in the 'second economy' - everything digital but there is massive pent up demand for breakthrough in mechanical and physical technologies (agriculture, transport, energy, housing etc). Thirdly, social inequality has been growing substantially even in advanced economies and that is seriously problematic in the long term.
These three interlocking systems are coming to prominence at a time when the Church in the west is increasingly weak. Can we as Christians be relevant and speak prophetically (which is not wacko predictions) or will we be characterised by cultural subversion and national interests? Can we take the opportunity that post-Christendom gives us and speak up not in power but with a voice that speaks for the voiceless.
The second topic which I am interested in but feel I could better encourage than lead is; we need collaborative project to sort out some down to earth practical technological choices at the local Church level. We need to help individuals with real help in their daily lives.
Third, from my perspective as economist/innovationist with some breadth and depth on the subject of the dimensions of our technological societies I want to encourage a engagement with technology that does not limit the word to electronics or biotechnology. Our societies are profoundly technological from the sewerage systems and electricity supply to cars and roads and then to the administrative institutions which sape our lives. We need to open our eyes to the physical and metaphorical layers of technology in our lives.