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Ghosts in the Machine

March 5, 2019

 

We are ghosts in the machine.  We inhabit a soft reality.  Call it the way of the world in the wake of modernism – or Post-modernism.

 

It’s the way we connect with people without really connecting with anyone.  Facebook friends.  I see only that part of you that you want me to see.  Maybe I just let you see the me I want to be.  Groups of acquaintances in roughly the same place all talking to other people on cell phones.  Better yet, texting others.  Joggers or walkers with iPod buds planted firmly in both ears.  I hear only what I want to hear.

 

Did you see the movie Avatar?  The phrase “I see you” was used throughout to mean a connection of soul, an interpenetration of personhood—a knowing of each other that was substantial and true and deep.  The phrase finally rang true at the end of the movie when the two main characters saw each other for who they really were.  No more facades, no more games, no more avatars.  Real person to real person knowing.  I see you.  I’m afraid we no longer see each other.  For that matter, I’m not so sure we even see ourselves.  We are ghosts in the machine.  The reality we choose to inhabit is soft and insubstantial.

 

The industrial revolution created a new kind of despair.  Workers lost themselves.  It didn’t matter who did the work.  They could be anyone.  They were just a placeholder on an assembly line.  Cities were detached from the land in that the agriculture could be shipped in from anywhere.  Work lost its significance.

 

But before that, when you farmed the land, you literally enjoyed the fruits of your labors.  What you did was tied to the fiber of daily living.  The craftsmen were the town craftsmen.  They had their place.  They were known.  There was a sense of interdependent community.  The blacksmith made the whatever-it-was-that-the-leather-was-stretched-on for the cobbler, the gears for the miller, the hammer for the carpenter, and the plowshare for the farmer.  Interdependency.  Community.

 

Industry changed that.  You made things for people you might never meet.  You bought things made by an unknown someone somewhere.  Your job might only be a small part of a larger process such that you never knew the satisfaction of seeing the job all the way through to completion.  Instead of being particular people in particular places, we became anyone anywhere.  Or no one nowhere.  Unknown.  Detached.  Despairing.

 

As our technology becomes more intimate and personal, we become more isolated and less human.  The machines begin to resemble people and the people machines.  Brave New World profoundly depicted the despair lurking behind undirected technological advance.  We might become so sophisticated and “advanced” that we become obsolete.  Nothing more to do.  Nothing more to think.  Nothing more for which to live.  Even now, many prefer digital worlds to the real world, or selfies, avatars and memes to self-disclosure in the context of real person-to-person relationship.  We have lost real community somewhere along the way.

 

And then there’s the Church….

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