Growing Down: Theology and Human Nature in the Virtual Age
How is the presence of ubiquitous personal technological devices shaping human development and interpersonal relations? How might persons navigate this technological revolution in a way that deepens and enlivens personal development, relationships, and experience rather than truncates or diverts them? What does it mean to reflect Christianly about how people relate to technology? What spiritual implications exist to our use of technology in this virtual age? Jaco J. Hamman explores such questions through the lenses of Christian Theology and Object Relations theory, privileging the latter, in Growing Down: Theology and Human Nature in the Virtual Age. Hamman’s theology is broadly Christian, enfolding many denominational and theological traditions within historical orthodoxy in the Christian tradition. Indeed, Christian theology is more implicit throughout the work as a worldview foundation; it appears, otherwise, unobtrusively as content that buttresses and punctuates the bulk of the text, which explicates a Christian-friendly anthropology and practical insights from the Object Relations school of psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalytic theory and practice has progressed substantively since its genesis with Sigmund Freud. Growing Down reflects the relational turn of psychoanalysis, which now emphasizes relationality and interpersonal attachment over pleasure, sex, and aggression as primary drives that animate the human body and spirit. Donald W. Winnicott was one of the first psychoanalysts to promulgate this understanding of human functioning widely, which meshes nicely with Christian understandings of the Trinity, human relationality, and biblical love. Hamman does an apt job of expounding Winnicott’s thinking and applying it to the now global existential and interpersonal challenges of our modern technological milieu. All schools of psychoanalytic thinking and practice are steeped in jargon from within the psychoanalytic tradition; Hamman nicely tackles the monumental task of translating guild-specific language and concepts in a manner that is accessible to a broader audience. Background knowledge in psychoanalytic theory and language is helpful, but not necessary to glean benefit from this scholarly work. It is full of potential for real-world application, highlighting thoughtful observations and stirring important questions about how human beings relate to technology, themselves, and each other in the age of personal technology.
Quoting Melvin Kranzberg, Hamman’s work assumes that “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”1 Growing Down presents six facets of human functioning under the rubric of intelligence with particular attention paid to the impact of technology in each of the six domains. How we relate to technology matters. We are shaped by technology. We use technology to shape ourselves, others, and our futures. How we use technology reveals aspects of our own personal, interpersonal, and spiritual development; it is, in a word, diagnostic. Intentional and mindful use of technology is intelligent; it is, therefore, also prognostic. Growing Down invites reflection within Christian and Winnicottian frameworks for more intelligent and grounded living in an increasingly virtual age.
Regarding intelligence, analysis of the use of technology is secondary to the exploration of human psychological development and relationality within this work. Each form of intelligence is explained within its own chapter, highlighting implications for human development and functioning in a technology saturated society. Each form of intelligence is compared and contrasted, framed within modes of being childlike, of growing up, and of growing down. The “grown-down” individual is one who is perpetually growing deep, transcending the anxieties and hollow functionality of modern adult life by maintaining psychological contact with others, the world, our Creator, and one’s innate, vulnerable, and playful self. For the childlike user, one’s relationship with technological devices reflects impulsivity and destructive tendencies. For the grown-up user, one’s relationship with tech- nological devices reflects distractions and defenses against true human contact with self and others, protecting from pain and fear in the name of various kinds of advancement. For the grown-down user, one’s relationship with technology is measured, regulated, purposeful, and lacks compulsion. It is free and facilitates or merely supplements true connection and emotional presence with self, others, one’s Creator, and the world. When it comes to how we relate to technology, Hamman advocates for:
- Self Intelligence: living with increasing agency from an awareness of our false self and our true self. Self intelligence does not culminate in independence, individualism, or rationalism; rather, it is rooted in mutuality and responsiveness. It seeks transforma- tion in the relational context.
- Relational Intelligence: living as an emerging self that manifests in the relational matrix. Human beings do not have selves; they are selves that reveal and grow in the encounter with other things and other beings. Drawing from Martin Buber’s language and thinking, the pinnacle of this relational intelligence occurs in the I-Thou interaction rather than the I-It interaction.
- Transitional Intelligence: living in the creative space of illusion and imagination, between the subjective and the objective realities. Transitional intelligence involves being able to create meaning constructively and imagine connections that help us grow, navigate realities, and potentiate new ideas that transform and give life.
- Reparative Intelligence: living in the healing flow of forgiveness, which is a necessity in a broken and fallen world in which ruptured relationships abound.
- Playground Intelligence: living playfully with spontaneity and openness to new chal- lenges and opportunities for discovery. Playground intelligence is a posture toward life that creates flow, engrossment, and focused attention to relationships and activities that are creative, opportunistic, and engaging.
- Technological Intelligence: living purposefully in one’s relationship with technology that embodies and reflects the other forms of intelligence.
Growing Down is an enriching read, inviting reflection about human nature, growth, interpersonal relating, and Christian spirituality. It avoids superficial judgments and polarities; rather, it invites readers to ponder and grapple with the nature of humanness awash in technology, particularly from a Christian perspective. The integration of Christian theology with psychoanalytic concepts and case vignettes promotes thoughtful discussion and intelligent living toward psychological, relational, and spiritual vitality.