Unpacking the ‘soft tyranny of the digital age’ – Asbury University
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Unpacking the ‘soft tyranny of the digital age’

Asbury Honors Program guest Dr. Felicia Wu Song discusses her new book with campus

March 5, 2024

Dr. Felicia Wu Song

On March 4, the Asbury University Honors Program (AUHP) hosted Dr. Felicia Wu Song to speak on her book, Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence, and Place in the Digital Age. Song’s book explores how our contemporary digital habits fundamentally form us in ways that shape “loves and imaginations” of what it means to be human. Learn more here.

“Today’s digital technologies are designed to captivate our attention and encroach on our boundaries, shaping how we relate to time and space, to ourselves and others, even to God,” Song said. “Our natural longing for relationship makes us vulnerable to the ‘industrializing’ effects of social media.”

Song’s book combines psychological, neurological, and sociological insights with theological reflection to explore two major questions: What kind of people are we becoming with personal technologies in hand? And who do we really want to be?

“While we enjoy the benefits of digital tech, many of us feel troubled with its power and exhausted by its demands for permanent connectivity,” Song said. “Yet even as we grow disenchanted, attempting to resist the digital ‘powers that be’ might seem like a losing battle.”

During her presentation, Song unpacked the soft tyranny of the digital age, including the values embedded in our apps and the economic systems that drive our habits. She then explored pathways of meaningful resistance that can be found in Christian tradition ― especially counter-narratives about human worth, embodiment, relationality, and time ― and offered practical experiments for individual and communal change.

“In our current digital ecologies, small behavioral shifts are not enough to give us freedom,” she said. “We need a sober and motivating vision of our prospects to help us imagine what kind of life we hope to live and how we can get there.”

Song is a sociologist who studies the social and cultural effects of digital technologies on community and identity in contemporary life. Trained in history, communication studies, and sociology from Yale, Northwestern and University of Virginia, she is professor of sociology at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Song’s early research projects included studies of expectant women’s online information-seeking habits and the evolution of “mommy bloggers” as social media professionals. Her first book, Virtual Communities: Bowling Alone, Online Together, examined the impact of online communities on democratic skills and dispositions. Learn more.

Song’s expertise has been sought by a wide range of organizations including BioLogos, The Vatican, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Trinity Forum, Thinq Culture Summit, National Association of Evangelicals, Notre Dame University, Fuller Theological Seminary and Asian American Christian Collaborative.

The AUHP invites students to join a community of scholars engaged in a themed enrichment experience which gives particular focus to the concept of human value and dignity and the virtuous life. Learn more: https://www.asbury.edu/academics/honors/.