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Understanding Techlash

Techlash is the backlash against technology, especially social media. Especially against the Facebook-WhatsApp-Instagram monopoly. A decade or so ago these technology companies could do no wrong, to most people, and were seen as an antidote to governments that didn't listen. But now people are beginning to react against them and resist them.

these companies have so much information about us that they direct our lives. They form a structure that directs and constrains our living, by making certain evil things easy and good things difficult. For example, bullying is made all too easy. So is groupthink and "echo-chambering". Also hatreds. Also hidden propaganding. On the other hand finding information that is both relevant and stimulating is increasingly difficult. So is being open. The idea that someone can think out loud, can change their minds, can repent, is almost gone.

Even though there is some truth in "technology is neutral", for some reason, it seems that social media brings out the worst in us more than it brings out the best.

How can we understand this, and do something about it?

Aspects of Social Media in the World

I suggest that Dooyeweerd's aspects can help us understand this and offer guidance on what to do. Dooyeweerd delineated fifteen aspects of reality, which are ways in which reality is meaningful, valuable, and good or evil.

Technology itself is qualified by the formative aspect, with its norm of shaping and achieving, in which the anti-norm is destruction and laziness.

Media is qualified by the lingual aspect, with its norm of explicating and making meanings open, in which the anti-norm is obfuscation, deceit and misinforming.

Social media is qualified by the social aspect, with its norm of cooperation and community, in which the anti-norm is enmity and isolation.

The design of social media technology is largely guided by these norms, because the social aspect depends on the lingual and formative. But its use is guided by the norms of yet other aspects, later than the social. These are the aspects that govern and enable human functioning or activity.

Most important among these are the last three:

Human activity is enabled by the juridical aspect, and guided by its norm of due, justice and appropriateness, with its anti-norm of injustice and inappropriateness.

Human activity is enabled by the ethical aspect, with its norm of self-giving love, including generosity, forgiveness and voluntary vulnerability, with its anti-norm of selfishness, meanness, refusal to forgive, and self-protection.

Human activity is enabled by the pistic aspect, with its norm of belief, commitment, courage and perseverance, with its anti-norm of disloyalty, cowardice, wavering and lack of commitment.

Dooyeweerd's view (also called Shalom) is that when we human beings use social media in line with the norms of these aspects, we, society and world will flourish, but when we use them succumbing to the anti-norms all sorts of evil increase.

Moreover, social media amplifies this good or evil in a way that did not happen before. This is both the blessing and curse that is social meida. (The amplification occurs by virtue of all three of its qualifying aspects: social, lingual and formative.)

Understanding What Went Wrong

What went wrong was that we used social media according to the evil anti-norms especially of the ethical aspect (selfishness etc.) leading to the anti-norm of the juridical aspect (inappropriateness and injustice) and perhaps the pistic. And this was amplified in ways never occurring before. So young people commit suicide.

The ethical aspect operates not only on the personal level ("I use it generously; it is others who use it evilly"), but on the societal level. Society oozes competitive individuality, which is another manifestation of the anti-norms of the ethical aspect. Moreover, competitive individuality is built into the design of social media - for instance making all to easy, competition for acclaim or comparison ("I've got more Likes than you" or "I'm useless because she's got more likes than me").

No amount of legislation nor education nor even persuasion will cure that, because such things precede the ethical aspect. The ethical aspect is the aspect of inner and societal attitude: selfish or self-centred.

According to Dooyeweerd, functioning in later aspects affects that in earlier, by "retrocipation". So attitude of self-centredness (ethical anti-norm) affects constrains our

With such a view - which needs deeper study of course - Dooyeweerd allows us to gain a clearer, less confusing picture of what is going on, while respecting the human and social complexity of it. Dooyeweerd helps us avoid sloganising and over-simplifying. Dooyeweerd allows us to consider both good and evil in each aspect of social media design and use, and to untangle the types of good and evil from each other.

Doing so can help us understand reactions and give guidance on what to do.

Understanding Techlash

With such a view we can understand Techlash. "-isms" and "-lashes" speak of our functioning in the pistic aspect, which is about deepest beliefs, about commitments, about the meaningfulness of life, about what we assume or presuppose or take for granted without questioning, and what we aspire to or expect as 'the nature of things'. It is also the aspect that qualified ideology and religion.

The pistic is the most powerful aspect since it is the aspect that affects all the others. And yet it depends on all the others. All the aspects are interwoven with each other.

First there was what we might call "Techism", which is an unquestioned belief in technology and its goodness and aspiration to design or possess ever better versions. This is our pistic functioning which idolizes technology, in unquestioned, biased belief. Yet technology is not an absolute, and after a a time it reveals to us this fact: our own evil (anti-normative) use of it becomes apparent and wrecks the lives of many.

Our pistic functioning is also revealed in (affluent) society's fundamental belief if the absolute right of individuals or cohorts to self-protection, self-determination, self-aggrandisement, [Note etc. That is, a fundamental reversal of the ethical aspect, so that anti-norm is believed (and promoted via the media) to be aspired to worked-for and its norm to be derided or avoided or worked-against.

Techlash is the pistic reaction against this. We begin to believe that technology and especially social media are evil.

Techlash is likewise pistic functioning, as a reaction against Techism. It is understandable. But it makes the same error of pistic functioning - unquestioning, biased belief - so it can never be a solution. Yet it is useful in helping to insert questions against the Techism idolatry into society.

So What Is A Solution ?

(I say "a" rather than "the".)

If this multi-aspectual analysis of the situation is not too wide of the mark (we need deeper reflection), that the key problem is revealed in our functioning in the ethical aspect of attitude (personal and societal), and in the pistic aspect, then the solution can only come from attending to the ethical and pistic aspects. Attending only to the pre-ethical aspects will never solve the problem, though doing so might offer short-term ameliorations.

Attend, therefore, to:

The only precedent that I know from history where such things have been tackled is spiritual revival that takes God seriously, where God reveals surprising new things.


Note on "self-". I find self-protection is expressed in "me and my family", self-determination in "my identity", self-aggrandisement in "Pride", etc. None of these are solutions; all make matters worse, including in unexpected ways.

Note on Revival. See some thoughts on revival written to Christians, in A New Revival ?.

This page, "", is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments are welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext in the style of classic HTML.

You may use this material subject to conditions. Compiled by Andrew Basden.

Created: 24 June 2019. Last updated: