Tagged: singularity

Jacques Ellul And The Desensitizing Impact Of Our Technological World: Or, How To Reclaim Your Life From Technological Distraction

jacques ellul

I feel out of touch–literally. Even now, pressing fingers over smooth keys I feel an emptiness of feedback. There’s no feedback in our technological world. The world of touch is a digitized landscape of ultra smooth surfaces and two dimensional images. Our only experience of this world, really, is through the eyes–the other senses are left out.

Do you know that the skin has been proven to ‘see’ colour? What about the skin in this digital world?

Have you ever done research on sensory deprivation? Researchers will take people and pay them money to have no sense of touch or smell or hearing or sight, etc. Then they’ll see how long they can go before they completely freak out. In a world of consensual sensory deprivation, is it a wonder we are feeling so out of touch with the world and each other? Is it a wonder we are all feeling so lonely?

My attention span has diminished also–it seems to be getting worse. I used to spend hours on a single passage of philosophical or poetic text, analyzing the argument, scribbling microscopic notes all over the margins in ultra-fine pencil. I can’t do that any more. Sure, part of it might have to do with age; but I know of 70 year old scholars and writers who could put me to shame. No, it’s not age–it’s that my attention is taken in so many directions when I’m just trying to read something. The quiet page is too dull, too painful, too demanding.

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I talked to a friend who’s in IT. I asked him the same question:

“So, how is your attention span these days?”

“It’s brutal–” he said. “I can’t focus on anything. I used to be much more precise, analytic . . . Now I can hardly get through a book.”

I couldn’t believe it–he was repeating the same things I had been telling myself just days prior. My friend continued.

“Ya, it’s even effecting what used to be entertainment. In the past, I could get through a show or movie without distraction. Now, I get five minutes into a movie before I move on to another one, or my phone distracts me and I lose interest.”

“What can we do?” I asked. “Technology seems to have reached another phase transition–it’s speeding up. Is there a way to push it back?” He looked at me with puzzlement and nodded in agreement.

“I don’t know,” he went on. “I would like to think we can, but it seems too late. I work in this stuff. My job is to create technological systems for people to use made up of the latest technological tools. I wish we could push it back, but I think it’s too late . . .”

It was too late for Jacques Ellus back in 1964 when he wrote one of the most prescient books of our times, The Technological Society. He saw way back then that we had already lost control of our technological tools.

It was then that I started a quest to somehow reclaim my life. It sounds cliche, I know, but I want to recapture what was lost. I want to have time again. I want to feel life, beauty, the sense of wonder I had as a child–back when telephones didn’t have answering machines, TV only had a handful of channels, and I was out all day on my bike returning only when the sun went down.

The next few posts will be an attempt to share some of that reclaiming . . .

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The Singularity or Everlasting Life?

For a number of years now I have thought a lot about longevity: I’ve read Ray Kurzweil’s books and regaled myself with Aubrey de Grey’s various talks on TED etc. “Would I chip, or not chip?” has been a lingering nagging question, the weight of which brought on by Bill Gates and others who warn us that if we do not enhance our brains technologically we risk being conquered by ever and rapidly advancing artificial intelligence. If Ray Kurzweil is right, we’ll want to enhance our brains through ‘chipping’ not only to avoid intellectual but also existential obsolescence.

I’ve asked myself so many times, “What’s my longevity plan?” It’s a big issue. As we’re moving closer toward singularity, I have had innumerable conversations with people about the importance of enhancing our brains–I’ve even consulted people in such directions for business plans and other strategic points of departure.

Aren’t we geared toward thinking of our future? Isn’t that a primordial, fundamental human concern? What will happen tomorrow? Will I live or will I die? Will I have enough? Will I grow ill and be unable to recover? What happens in the moment of a catastrophe? Am I ready?

Biotechnological solutions are ways for us to insure a future for ourselves; to shore up against age, disease, dementia, and even career obsolescence.

And what about from a Christian perspective, for those who are? Would you chip? What does it mean to take it? To what are you wired up? Whose controlling whom? And even outside of the Christian context, what about basic human liberty–are you free if you take a chip?

“Yes–” one would argue, “but look at the benefits! Living for the next 300 years with an amped up brain capacity that would make Einstein look feeble! Who doesn’t want that? Besides, computers and all external forms of data gathering, are passe, not to mention onerous.”

It wasn’t until I sat in the Pascal Lectures by John Lennox that I came to a crazy realization that I have been taught since Sunday school, but in the course of ‘becoming educated’ withdrew from consciousness: That as a Christian, a believer in Christ, I have everlasting life. What does this mean?

In the story of Genesis, we see human beings with these amazing bodies and minds: supple, youthful bodies, and minds one-pointed and straight-edged. But at the fall, everything changed: our bodies became degenerative, and our minds divided. When Christ came, he revealed to us not only that He is God (in the beginning was the Word), and not only that He suffers with us, but most importantly that He defeated death through His resurrection.

In the book of John, Jesus appears to Mary, Martha, and the disciples. Did they recognize Him at first? No. In fact, He chose to reveal Himself to them, after which they recognized Him. John tells us that His body was so magnificent, so glorious, that He was unrecognizable–even by His closest friends and mother. And through His resurrected body, Christ shows us what our bodies will be like in Eternity–unrecognizable, and like the bodies of the first humans prior to the fall.

If you worry about the singularity and your longevity plan, and are a believer in Jesus Christ, I urge you not to worry–you have the real thing, the real longevity plan; only this plan is for eternity with our Creator and those we love, and not built on the hubris of human advancement that will surely perish.

If you are not a Christian, I urge you to check out the John Lennox lecture at my previous post. There is Hope. You don’t need to worry about whether you can afford the technologies of the Singularity, or about some ambiguous longevity plan about which the greatest minds have only limited belief based on conjecture. God created you and offers you eternal life through His death and resurrection–it’s a beautiful thing. Christ will restore your heart, will heal your body, will bring you joy.