All posts tagged: technology

What Social Media Does to Time

Social media feeds present the myth of endless and therefore purposeless time. Twitter is a prime example. Picture the top of a Twitter feed where a new tweet appears, then the next, then the next. If you scroll down, you know what you will find: more tweets. What happens to all those tweets down below? They slip-slide away, into the past: down, down, down. Theoretically, they are all retrievable but with the passage of more and more time, they are each more and more covered over by the mist of movement. Where is the present on social media? It appears that the present is back up on the top of the feed, where new tweets come, passing for an instant as the present thing. That present thing will momentarily become a past thing as a new thing comes over the top. But imagine, if you will, not a single user’s Twitter feed but all Twitter feeds collapsed into one. How quickly does a tweet pass through the present? It is probably just about at the …

The Vast Re-Education Program of the Superbowl Ads

The zeitgeist of any new year can often be distilled by observing the snapshots of commodity culture that Super Bowl ads provide. A cursory survey of this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup includes the usual suspects. We like movies. We like cars. We like movies about cars. We like feeling safe. We like movies about not feeling safe. We like beer. Minus the corn syrup. This read is not wholly inaccurate but it is superficial. It assumes that the content of the ads is merely projecting our cultural interests and desires right back at us. But that is never the whole story. As Marshall McLuhan liked to put it, the content of any medium is the juicy piece of meat that the burglar offers the guard dog before ransacking the house. What are we missing by focusing on the products and gags that the advertisers serve up? We are missing something profound about the medium itself. Or in the case of the late television era, we are missing something profound about the tectonic shift from …

Classroom Technology as the End of Education

As recently as half a decade ago, popular opinion regarded educational technology as a panacea for struggling schools and the key to reimagining American education. The New York Times was feting Khan Academy and the Washington Post continually lauded the possibilities afforded by “ed tech.”[1] In 2013, Google Classroom was still in its infancy, and the “flipped classroom” was more a novelty than a widespread practice.[2] Just a few years later, the educational cognoscenti are less certain. Pundits warn against indiscriminate adoption, and anxieties over excessive “screen time” have grown.[3] Many have become wary of the cultural and economic dominance of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like, especially in the education sector.[4] The fact that many tech executives send their children to tech-free schools alone should give us pause.[5] Yet most of these cautions are issued from a neurological, positivist-psychological, or otherwise materialist standpoint and retain the same criteria under which educational technology was applauded in the first place. We are told to be careful about the amount of technology in the classroom because it …

Reading the News as a Spiritual Exercise

We know there is a problem with the way we disseminate, consume, and respond to the news. We also generally share some sense of where the problem lies. It has something to do with a complex interaction of factors like the structure of digital media, the industries that support those technologies, and our cultural, economic, and political climate. Somehow those factors both foster and are fostered by trends such as narrowing echo chambers, a fractured accountability to diverse publics, comments that fail to respect and engage others, decreasing attention spans, and the exhaustion and despair that fester before the parade of emergencies that counts our days and disciplines our emotions like a liturgical calendar. Something is wrong with how we pursue the truth together in a digital society. Reasonable suggestions for how to address this problem generally come in two flavors. The first approach emphasizes the structure of our news technologies and the corporations that develop and profit from them. We must fix Google, Facebook, and Twitter through legislation and consumer pressure. The second approach …

Technology and the Mystical After Auschwitz

Introduction Technology has accompanied the evolution of human beings from time out of mind. The use of simple instruments to attain food or construct shelter can be considered as elementary forms of technology. Relatively more complex forms, such as a lifter or a shadoof, reflect the more articulate awareness of the importance of technology in the accomplishment of simple tasks. Technology has become ever more complex throughout the centuries, though the growth of complexity was not very obvious before the modern technological revolution in the 18th century. However, not only military equipment was developed nearly constantly before that time, not only construction technologies evolved in the entire known history of civilization, but, most importantly, a complicated technical knowledge was present even at the beginning of the human epoch. Such technology was probably kept as knowledge reserved for the few for a long time. This is clearly shown by the technological contrast we find between the popular work on machines written about by Hero of Alexandria in the 1st century CE on the one hand, and …

The Mocking of Christ by the Glittering Spectacles of Consumerism

Everything vies for our attention. Movies, marketing campaigns, even medicines, all seek to fulfill our desires for release and joy. Entertainment captures our minds and transports them to different realities through various spectacles that shape our lives. This insight is blindingly obvious even though we are submerged in rampant consumerism and subversive capitalism. Chanon Ross unpacks how the early Christians dealt with their version of spectacle and draws parallels to how this theology of the spectacle shapes the Christian faith through the centuries. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire, and Metaphysics invites readers to take a trip back in time to the Coliseum and recognize that the horror of the past still exists in a (not always) bloodless and potent fashion now. Ross argues that it is only through the True Spectacle of Christ that Christians can be freed from the seductive draw of the “society of spectacle” to devote our deepest longings to the Triune God. Ross expands the idea of spectacle by contrasting it with the capital-s Spectacle (of Christ) in a tripartite …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …

The Patron Saint of Media Studies

When WIRED magazine christened the Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan its “patron saint” on the original masthead in 1992, it seemed like a fitting honor. After all, the new tech culture magazine was the self-proclaimed authority on where the world was headed in the digital age. So tagging McLuhan, the late English professor turned media philosopher, added some prophetic pomp. His popular slogans like “the medium is the message” sounded like Zen koans written by an ad man, perfect for a Silicon Valley culture fixated on spreading the gospel of techno-utopianism. Here is something you will not find in WIRED magazine: “In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”[1] A theological take on “the medium is the message.” This is also McLuhan. Whether McLuhan coined his famous phrase while looking at a television or a crucifix is of little importance. What is interesting is how McLuhan applied …

Whom Will Technology Serve?

This is an essay about technology, a subject that tends to polarize, with proponents too often dismissing the critics as “pessimistic” and the critics too often tending toward the apocalyptic. Part of the problem is that we need somehow to learn to speak about technology again. We need to do so in a nuanced manner which does justice to the complexity of our current situation. A part of the problem is that certain technologies are not devices we make use of on certain rare occasions but are, in some instances, something more akin to companions the loss of which would, for some, be quite literally catastrophic. The human species has always been homo faber but the integration of technology into our lives is such that it mediates almost every facet of our lives, and we can only expect this process to continue. What I want to do is suggest not simply that we have a technology “problem” on our hands (this is obvious) but that those who adhere to the Christian religion have particular problems …

The Liturgical Critique of Technological Culture

  Over the past twenty years, rapid technological developments have completely transformed our social environment, leaving no doubt about the adequacy of Jacques Ellul’s earlier prognostications: ours is surely a “technological society.”[1] Such widespread integration of technology into culture raises a number of important questions for Christians and their calling to be “in the world, but not of the world” (See: John 17:14-17; Rom. 12:2).  I am specifically concerned with the following: how does Christian participation in technological culture affect our perception of, and participation in, the sacramental life of the church? Vice versa: how does our participation in the liturgy and the sacraments affect our perception of the technological society in which we are more and more involved? Such questions can be tackled by turning to the research of Walter Ong (d. 2003) and Yves Congar (d. 1995). By extending and synthesizing Ong’s sociological approach to technology along with Congar’s theological interpretation of Church and culture, I will argue: the liturgy of the Eucharist intrinsically orders the relative goods of all human technologies, for …