Our New Best Friend: Mr. iPhone

It’s hard to count how many sci-fi thrillers have been made, where mankind’s machines become self-aware all of a sudden and begin to eradicate “imperfect” humanity to make way for some perfect, microchip-based world order (Terminator, I, Robot, The Matrix, it could go on for a while). There’s a fascination with the idea that mankind’s most complex creations will become its own destruction, that our slaves will become our masters, etc. But it highlights what we could describe as a love-hate relationship we have with digital technology. It’s almost impossible to find an American home without at least a couple televisions, but most of us end up complaining that we watch too much TV, that we need to go outside more, talk more, turn off the X-Box. It can all be boiled down to how too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Technology like cell phones, laptops, Apple products, are all “good” (you can’t help but be thankful for their usefulness), but when do we need to rein in our excitement a little?

 

Sherry Turkle wrote an interesting opinion piece for CNN, describing her experience as a panelist for a “cyberetiquette” conference in Boston (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/27/opinion/turkle-ted-technology/index.html?iref=allsearch). During the meeting, a woman asked the panelists whether it was a “right” of hers to ignore a cashier in a grocery store, trying to make conversation with her, while she was using her smart phone. Turkle was disturbed that most of the panelists sympathized with the woman over the  friendly cashier. This cashier, Turkle argued, had a greater right for some “human exchange.” She notes that such a case shows how many people are beginning to “expect more from technology and less from each other.” Somewhat disturbingly, she also relates how several younger people have told her that “they hope that in the future, Siri [a digital assistant] will be even more like a best friend to them.” When I read that, I felt a little scared. It seems absolutely ridiculous that a machine will very soon become a “best friend” for some people. Unfortunately, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds, and some of my own experiences have confirmed my fears.

 

When one of my roommates moved out of our apartment a few months ago to get married, he took along with him his flatscreen TV. At first, I was glad that the black box of wasted time was going away. Finally, the temptation was removed, and now I would be forced to focus on more productive tasks!

 

A few weeks later, and I was feeling some serious withdrawal effects.

 

Whenever I got “tired” of reading, writing, or ran out of errands, I found myself wanting to reach for that remote and turn on the Discovery channel to watch some lions killing a wildebeest, or . . . something like that.

 

I didn’t think that going cold Turkey on TV was going to be so difficult, but the experience showed just how much I had learned to depend on TV as a source of distraction and entertainment.

 

Now, most of us wouldn’t say that technology has begun to “replace” our friends. But then again, it has in a sense. When another roommate left for home this past weekend, I lost one of my main sources for “entertainment” and human interaction. Something that helped fill that “void” was watching movies on my laptop. I guess that isn’t an extreme case of “tech-pendency,” but it personally shows me how I often need some sort of technological input to get me through the day.

 

Going back to the question posed earlier (when is it time to rein in our tech use), maybe a good rule of thumb is that technology has become more of a problem than an asset when it begins to substitute for real, human interaction. If it becomes the case that families, friends, and coworkers cannot share good one-on-one conversation because they’re all busy deepening their relationships with Mr. iPad, and Mr. X-Box360, then something just isn’t right. If this is the rule of thumb, then it seems as though our society is already consistently breaking it. I once heard someone jokingly describe coffee shops as places where people go to be lonely . . . together. Paradoxically, we all want to be around one another, but we often don’t really want to interact much, unless that interaction is mitigated by a computer screen with the word ‘facebook’ in the upper left hand corner.

 

This is something I need to preach to myself more (as I write this out on my iPad!). We all need to take some time to “unplug” and have some good ‘ole face-to-face interaction with a fellow human being. Against all odds, maybe we will somehow be shaken out of our tech-induced stupor, and become a society that doesn’t need such advice.

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The Self-Defeating Materialist

Just a short conversation I wrote out between two people, one who views the world as not ‘necessary,’ and a materialist that doesn’t really see any wonder in the world anymore.

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Non-Materialist: “It’s a strange world we live in.”

Materialist: “No it’s not.”

Non-Materialist:”Why not?”

Materialist: “Because it’s the only world there is.There couldn’t have been another world. What happened, happened. It’s all words, ‘strange,’ ‘magical.’ What would be a ‘normal’ world, anyway?”

Non-Materialist: “I don’t know. Maybe trees would be upside down. Maybe horses would ride people, or something like that.”

Materialist: “‘That’s a waste of time! The point is, this is what we’ve got. We have to do the best with what we’ve got.”

Non-Materialist: “What is the best?”‘

Materialist: “A world without poverty, war, or money.”

Non-Materialist: “Hmmm, sounds kind of like a world with trees that are upside down.”

Materialist: “That’s different!”

Non-Materialist: “No it’s not.”

The Trouble with Scientism

The Trouble with Scientism

I think it was Albert Einstein who said that scientists make very poor philosophers.

Well, he’s right.

Not only do Christians say that science can only go so far to explain the human condition, but also secular humanists. An article by Philip Kitcher in this week’s issue of the New Republic, demonstrates how scientists’ tendency to make sweeping, general statements on all of life (or a “theory of everything”) is a gross overstepping of its boundaries..

Kitcher points out that there are some questions about humanity that are “‘beyond the scope of natural scientific inquiry.” Now, he does not write much on what this implies for the spiritual side of things (he comes off as purely secular), but this implicitly agrees with the beliefs of Christians (and most “average joes” around the world) that life can’t be just about what you can concretely observe through a telescope. Many biologists would like to say that all human behavior can be explained purely through natural selection, and that culture is simply a product of blind forces, moving in no particular direction. It’s funny how often many scientists talk about “progress,” all the while assuming that there is a general consensus of what “progress” is. What is the ideal state of humanity? Most don’t have a ready answer.

This drive to generalize scientific conclusions and impose them on the rest of humanity (when in fact those conclusions come from a limited perspective within a particular field), can be incredibly dangerous. Kitcher rightly states that “the political ramifications of conclusions about human beings only reinforce the demand for modesty.” We require caution and modesty, if we really want to steward this world well.

http://blog.acton.org/archives/32633-if-christ-is-lord-everything-matters.html

http://blog.acton.org/archives/32633-if-christ-is-lord-everything-matters.html

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/05/20/how-to-be-political-but-not-partisan/

Ok, so I know that spending time in a university program where the background of ideas for Western political institutions is unveiled, tends to create a kind of apolitical snobbery. What I mean is that when I came to better understand how a lot of political thinking is formulated, I became a person who tried to remain “above” base, petty, partisan politics, with the result that I simply stopped caring about most contemporary political debates. It promoted a sense of disgust and pointlessness toward politics. I naively began to think that Christians didn’t have to concern themselves much with “dirty” squabbles between Repubs and Dems. I was beyond such earthly thinking; I’m all about the heavenly things!

Well, here are two resources that have recently helped me shift my gears into what I think is a more biblical and helpful understanding of the relationship between faith and politics (or Jerusalem and Rome).

The first is a good article on why everything matters, including, you guessed it, politics.

The second gives a good framework for how Christians should approach politics, without necessarily towing the party line. You can speak clearly and loudly on the issues you care about, but you also don’t have to agree with all that one party promotes (ie, you can adamantly oppose abortion, but you can still promote heavier taxes on the wealthy)

Infinite Immensity of Spaces

When I consider the brief duration of my life absorbed in the eternity that lies before and after. . . the small space I occupy and can even see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces I do not know and that do not know me, I am frightened. . .” Blaise Pascal, 1658

I have always loved looking up at the stars. It is so easy to lose yourself when you look and ponder how vast, open, and enormous is this universe, populated by billions of “balls of gas, burning billions of miles away” (Pumba, from The Lion King). There is almost a sense of comfort when you realize your smallness.

“I am not the center of the universe.”

In fact, just yesterday I looked at the New York Times from my birthday in 1990, and I found no mention of the birth of Alex Wright. There was something about George Bush, and Saddam Hussein, but no mention of the red-headed child born in Kissimmee, Florida. Who knew? The world did not stop on my account, and it will continue long after I’m gone.

 I said earlier that there is a sense of comfort in realizing your smallness. But there is also discomfort, right? This is a tremendously vast universe, and you and I are very, very, very, small and seemingly insignificant. David himself recognized such a fact while he said to God “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8). What has modern science and technology done but confirm and even exaggerate David’s point, that compared to the size and scope of the natural world, mankind seems insignificant.

This is what Pascal experienced almost four-hundred years ago. When he examined himself in comparison to the size of the cosmos, he became frightened. The thought that such a person as Blaise Pascal, with his intellect and insight (he invented one of the first calculators, after all!) comforts me, because I have felt very similar.

If we are so infinitesimally small, what business do we have criticizing its creator? Could we ever imagine the immensity of this universe, let alone its originator? Louie Giglio, a pastor/touring speaker, loves to use astronomy to illustrate how vast the cosmos is and how tiny we are within it. After going through countless examples of how incredibly tremendous the universe is in scope and beauty, he notes, very rightly, that sin has an incredible tendency to “shrink” God in our minds, to a more “manageable” size, and then puff ourselves up. WE somehow become the experts in how our lives/society/government/traffic/etc. should go. We are so forgetful of the power and wisdom of a God who can “breathe out stars” (Psalm 33)!

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“Facade-book”

 

I said before that my goal with this blog is to just write, but that’s not the whole truth. I want to write about a broad range of topics, but for the purpose of putting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in conversation with those topics. Culture, politics, science, all these are important by themselves to some degree, but in the end, only in how they ultimately point back to their source and creator.

Yes, I am a full-blown, head-over-heels, evangelical follower of Christ (or as they used to say before the word was somewhat spoiled by misrepresentation and a new generation decided to use different terms, aChristian). My goal is to live each day in light of eternity, praying for more and more joy in Christ, and longing for the day when I’ll actually see his face.

Knowing that, we are not called to just go up on the hillside and sit on our hands until Christ returns. We are called to live in the world (John 17:15). Christ and his disciples in the early Church actively engaged with the cultures they encountered as they preached the good news of Jesus. Take Acts 17, when Paul uses Greek poetry to explain to Greeks the truth about God. As Christians, we should never be guilty of ignorance, but should remain informed, ready to reach out to people in a context they’re familiar with, confident that what we proclaim is relevant and needed. Out of all the news that is “preached” in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or Newsweek, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only news that has the potential to change a person’s eternal destiny!

With that in mind, I wanted to start off by talking about a pretty disturbing article I came across in the May issue of The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/8930/). The title was, Is Facebook Making us Lonely?, and its basic premise was that Facebook has contributed to an American culture of loneliness. The author, Stephen Marche, notes some surprising statistics about loneliness in America, such as the fact that nearly 27 percent of households in the US in 2010 had just one person living in them, up from less than 10 percent in 1950. Also, about 20 percent of Americans (60 million) are “unhappy with their lives because of loneliness.” With this huge upsurge in loneliness, we have also “outsourced the work of everyday caring” to an army of professionals (psychiatrists, social workers, etc.) that take the place of friends and family.

Into this context steps Facebook, with its seeming ability to connect individuals on a massive scale. However, Facebook, interestingly enough, doesn’t seem to be helping with the problem of chronic loneliness. The basic problem, as I saw it in the article, is that Facebook doesn’t supply what it supposedly advertises, a simple, easy to use, method to stay connected with friends and family. Instead, the failure of Facebook reveals that “connection is not the same thing as a bond,” meaning Facebook doesn’t really allow for meaningful bonds to form between individuals. Talking to your BFF on Facebook just isn’t the same as talking to her face to face.

What can we take from this? Of course, Facebook is not by itself a “bad” thing. Like most technologies, it is a blessing in various ways, and “sanctifiable”  for use in God’s family, and in reaching out to others in love. But Marche makes several good points in this purely secular analysis. We live in an age of unparalleled connection, but we’re lonelier than we ever have been. How can the church offer a counterpoint and an alternative to a culture of individuals who are slowly losing their ability to interact with one another in meaningful ways?

I remember Hebrews 10: 24-25, which commands that we should “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The author states that we need to continue to meet, to “stir up” one another, in love and encouragement. This sense of community and love in the body of Christ is, frankly, the most obvious way that we are to demonstrate Christ to the world. After all, Jesus himself said in his “farewell address,” that by this love for one another, the world will know that we are his disciples! (John 13:35). The body of Christ meets one of the deepest needs of the human condition, the need for community, acceptance, and deep friendship, a friendship that includes talking through the “hard things” of life, not just sports or the weather. This is not to say that this is the main problem which life in the church addresses (which is the disjunction between sinner and Savior), but this problem is greatly addressed there.

Last year, I had a student in my Bible study tell me that what he appreciated most about our group was that we were open to talking about the sin in our lives. We were honest and unafraid to address those subjects that would naturally be avoided in most “shallow” conversations. This is an example of how we can be an encouragement to one another. Only when we allow ourselves to be exposed before those we trust, can we truly receive healing and encouragement from one another.

If the facade we put on through Facebook was removed and people could see who we truly were on the inside, I would probably be not just a little shocked by how different many people looked. All of our sins and imperfections would be laid bare before an audience. We would see one another the way God sees us, which would be a radical and daunting challenge! I would challenge everyone who does not have those one or two people with whom they can share the heavy things of the heart with, to prayerfully seek for them.

Let’s not give up “meeting together.” We shouldn’t turn away from the church, with some lame excuse like “I love Jesus but not the church.” No, if you don’t love Christ’s body, you really don’t love him. Yes, it’s filled with broken, sinful, people who need Jesus just like everyone else. But when we strive for deep, harmonious community with one another, people do take notice.

A Surrender . . . yet an opportunity?

Well, this is kind of a surrender. I think that before now, I struggled with some misplaced sense of superiority when it comes to blogging. In my mind, bloggers were people who had nothing better to do than sit around and write about things in posts that almost no one will read, and then pretend that they are somehow “important” because they have their own blog.

So, I know that’s not really true now (at least for a lot of bloggers!), and I want to do some blogging because I think it will simply help me to write, which is what I really want to do. Having a place to put it all makes moving your stuff out of a house a lot easier, so having a place to put your ideas will naturally make it easier to write.

With that said, I now take the plunge into the chaotic, vibrant nether regions of the blogosphere!