I’ve been thinking about a word lately: “incunabula.”
The word is used by historians to refer to a period of time between A.D. 1450-1500, during which the first books were printed following the adoption of the printing press in Europe. “Incunabula” is the plural of the Latin word for “cradle” or “swaddling clothes,” and by extension is used to describe the beginnings or earliest stages of something.
The printing press ushered in an unprecedented era of expanding knowledge. Both religious and scientific communities benefited from this technological marvel, which arguably fueled both the Reformation and the Renaissance.
Yet the earliest adopters of Gutenberg’s innovation could not have been fully aware of the its far-reaching effects. In fact, researcher James Dewar argues “the important effects of the printing press era were not seen clearly for more than 100 years.”1
Thus the Incunabula Period has developed into a concept that goes beyond analyzing the earliest books to studying the implications of any technology. More specifically, it refers to a period of time during which a technology is used without a full understanding of its effects.
With this in mind, I would suggest that we find ourselves in the middle of our own incunabula period.
The rise of the Information Age has dramatically altered the human experience. These abilities have given us personal computers, video games, and the smartphone.
Societies have fully embraced these innovations. Consider Apple, Inc., which recently became the first company in history to be valued at more than US$1 trillion. We value technology for many reasons, not the least of which is efficiency. The latest app, box, or online subscription can help us do it faster, better, and with less hassle.
What we don’t know is the full effect that this complete immersion in technology is having on us as a society and as individuals. But we are beginning to understand. An estimated 210 million people worldwide are addicted to the Internet and social media; teens who spend five hours a day on their smartphones are twice as likely to show depressive symptoms;2 and 90 percent of people admit to using a phone while driving, half of them checking social media.3
I am a communication professional who has been immersed in technology for two decades and have used it to build up the kingdom of heaven.
However, technology also has a dark side, no matter how much benefit it brings to society. “We are already seeing unintended consequences in the Information Age that are dominating intended ones, and there are good reasons to expect more in the future,” adds Dewar.
Consider these thoughts an appeal, especially to parents: Don’t believe that technology is inherently beneficial. Take time to consider how technology impacts you and your family. Make necessary adjustments as you move into a digital future carefully and intentionally.
Costin Jordache is news editor and communication director for Adventist Review Ministries.