One of the Savior’s parables may provide some insight into the fundamental dilemma of the good and evil influences of technology. What follows is the parable of the wheat and tares from Matthew.
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, … But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants … said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. …
[Then Jesus] said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; … As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: … Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.6
Let’s look at this parable from a technology perspective. The field is the world, and into this field the Son of man sows inspiration of all kinds, including technological. Before the wheat even begins to grow, the devil comes and sows evil into the field. If the wheat represents the positive value of technologies intended by the Lord to bless the world, the devil’s motivation is to corrupt these technologies by sowing counterfeit uses (the tares) that grow up together with the good. In the Lord’s wisdom, he allows the good and the evil to grow up together.
Now, think about the earliest technologies created by humans. Take fire, for example. The upside to fire? For starters: warmth in the cold, ability to cook food (with accompanying health benefits), even the ability to communicate simple messages at a distance (signal fires). What about the downside? People get burned or suffer smoke inhalation, arson is now possible, as are flaming weapons and man-made forest fires. As with fire, when the wheat and tares are quite young, the differences between good and evil uses for a given technology are slight.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century, more than 170 years since the restoration of the gospel, and some indeterminate number of years before the harvest at the end of the world. How stark is the line now between good and evil with respect to the uses of available technologies? Very stark indeed! I would argue that the benefit of cooking food traded against the risk of getting burned is a somewhat modest disparity. But how about the difference between using a web browser to seek out your ancestors and submit their work to the temple, versus the ability to use the same web browser to access degrading and addictive pornographic material? That gap is huge! Both anciently as well as today, technology itself is always merely a tool, but the good and/or evil things that can be done with technology has shifted dramatically in the past several hundred years.