Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 3

The tree was in the middle of the garden. It was supposed to advance her knowledge. Eve bought the lie and bit the fruit. Perhaps it is coincidence that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was 'in the middle' of the garden (Genesis 3:3, NASB), but I think not. Technology always stands in the middle: It is a medium.

In math we learned that the medium was the number in the middle of a set. In Spirituality 101, we learned that a medium was an intercessor for the physical and spiritual world. In the kitchen, we learned that medium was a light pink shade bordered by blood and char marks. And in grammar class, we learned that medium is the singular of media.

In Chapter 3, "Stretch Armstrong," Hipps calls upon a iconic action figure to define media, and by extension technology. Again, referring to McLuhan's work, Hipps explains that 'a medium is anything that stretches, extends, or amplifies human cap city' (pg. 32).

The examples of this are unlimited. Keyboards extend our ability to hand write. Cell phones stretch our ability to talk (depending on coverage and minutes). In vitro fertilization multiplies our ability to have a baby (or eight). And a guitar amplifies our ability to create music (or drown out bad singing voices).

The Bible implies and lists some of the earliest technology in the fourth chapter of Genesis. Implied in Cain's tilling is an instrument to till. Implied in erection of his city are the tools for construction. Explicitly stated media are tents, instruments, and implements (4:20-22). Each of these items 'stretched, extended, and amplified' human progress.

History, however, shows that such advances have also catalyzed regress. Cities host more poverty, injustice, and crime than anywhere else; implements have been used to murder and make drugs; instruments have created misogynistic music and stir up rebellion. This will happen with our tools.

Within the chapter, Hipps retells two Greek myths--Narcissus and Perseus. These myths share the metaphor of the mirror. The mirror is a tool that, depending on who and how it is used, either results in good or evil. Narcissus--the lover of self who reflects our Entitlement culture-- becomes a slave to the mirror. Perseus uses the mirror to deflect Medusa's stony gaze. Hipps conclusion is helpful: "When we fail to perceive that the things we create are extensions of ourselves, the created thing takes on god-like characteristics and we become their servants" (pg. 35).

Where this failure to perceive is most evident in the Biblical narrative is the story of Babel. The irony of the story is the contrast between man's ignorance and God's awareness. They come and settle. They say let's build. They want fame and glory. But their plans are devoid of God. In contrast, the Lord sees their attempt at extending themselves to heaven and dethroning God. His response is haunting: "And now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them" (Genesis 11:6).

Every new level they added to the building was stripping away their dependence on God. However, it was not the media of bricks and stone, but the medium of shared language that stretched them.

Extending ourselves to the point where we don't need God is evil. I fear too many technologies do this. As he explains the four dimensions of media (1: amplification; 2: rendering old media obsolete; 3: borrowing from old), Hipps clearly warns against the final 'dark dimension.' "Every medium, when pushed to an extreme, will reverse on itself, revealing unintended consequences" (pg. 37).

Amoral or not, the very fact that each technology has the capacity for evil, should be warning enough against overuse.

Questions to consider:
  • What is the dark dimension of the alphabet? Bible translation?
  • How are churches becoming overly dependent on technology (this blog not included)?
  • Why do we feel the need to extend ourselves?

Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps words: 53
Total words: 664
Percentage: 8.0%

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