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Posts from the ‘Technology/Digital Culture’ Category

Conversion Therapy

No, not that kind of conversion therapy. Just to disappoint (or assuage) you at the outset. I have no desire to wade into the fraught and stormy waters of sexual identity and public policy on such a lovely summer morning. Also, just in case you were tempted to think too highly of me (an unlikely prospect, I grant), I have just ably demonstrated that I am not above the occasional click-baity headline. Sorry, again, to disappoint. Read more

On Burning and Rotting

One does not need to be an apologist for the Roman Catholic Church or for the Government of Canada or for the wretched legacy of Indian Residential schools to be alarmed at and deeply troubled by the spate of recent church burnings that have taken place across Canada. I probably should not need to begin a post with a sentence like that—i.e., it should be fairly unremarkable that a person could feel grief and anger toward historical injustices perpetrated by the church and simultaneously be convinced that burning houses of worship to the ground is wrong—but such are the times we live in. We are forever sorting one another into moral categories. It can be a risky thing to risk the wrath of the online mob by expressing the wrong moral sentiment. Or the right moral sentiment directed toward the wrong group. Or the right moral sentiment expressed with the wrong degree of certainty or outrage. Or… well, you’ve presumably been online in the last few years. You get the idea.

The Roman Catholic church is not a particularly popular or sympathetic institution, at present, for reasons that are well (and appropriately) documented. And the response to these burnings from politicians and other public officials has predictably been somewhat muted. There are condemnations, certainly, but often with a tinge of, “Well, yes, but you see it’s understandable given the history here…” If these were Canadian mosques or gurdwaras or Buddhist temples being reduced to ash, one suspects the public narrative would be rather different (it would not be difficult to find historical injustices associated with these institutions and symbols either, even if these do not have the same emotional, geographic, or social proximity as those connected to the churches that are burning). But our history in this nation, for good and for ill, has been profoundly influenced and shaped by the church. This is where we live.

The act of burning carries with it a lot of symbolic freight. It can be a symbol for the white-hot rage that many indigenous people (again, appropriately) feel toward all that they have endured at the hands of the church. “Burn it to the ground” could simply be an attempt to destroy and consign to oblivion. There may be the idea of something like self-immolation at work—offering oneself or one’s institutions up as a sacrifice to atone for sin (this article conveys such sentiments). It can also take on purificatory connotations. The idea of fire as a tool of refining and burning away impurities is found throughout Scripture (e.g., Zech 13:9). In this case, the church itself represents an impurity, a stain on our more morally evolved cultural moment. It must be purged and refined according to present sensibilities if it is to remain.

I suspect that some combination of what’s described in the preceding paragraph is at work in how we as a nation are viewing these church burnings. They’re wrong, yes, but… We have little fondness for the church or the ugly parts of its history. We lament the aesthetic loss, perhaps, but the thought of those children… and all that abuse of wealth and power… and all that naked racism and cultural imperialism. Many Canadians wouldn’t say “Burn it to the ground” publicly (unless they work for the BC Civil Liberties Association, perhaps), but privately we’re more or less ok with editing this chapter out of Canada’s past. Good riddance. Etc.

Speaking of editing the past. I read an article this morning where I encountered a term that was new to me: link rot. In a world where so much information is migrating online and where there is so little regulation, apparently plenty gets lost along the way. Or modified. Or “updated” to reflect current moral sensibilities. Or deleted. Link rot describes the phenomenon of hyperlinks no longer working or pointing to the same external content that they once did. A link to an article that you posted in 2017, for example may or may not still work in 2021. One study found that “50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.” That’s some significant slippage.

Even here on my own little blog, I’ve linked to a lot of content over fourteen years. I did a quick check on a few posts that I wrote over a decade ago. Sure enough, over half of the links in those posts no longer work. Who knows, the links in this very article might not work by the time you read it! I could simply remove the rotten links, but a) that would be tedious and cumbersome work; and b) it would make the post that cited them somewhat confusing. A lot of what I write here references specific content and context. If that content and context is lost or inaccessible? Well, then I guess readers just have to trust me.

I remember in the early years of blogging, I realized that along with the obvious power I had to change past posts whenever I wanted, I could also edit other people’s comments. Say they had made a point that was inconvenient for my argument, or they quoted something I had said that was inaccurate or wrong or reflected poorly on me in some way, or I was just generally finding them an irritating conversation partner. Well, I could just change or delete any comment that didn’t flatter me or my story. As it happens, I think that this is deceitful and immoral. I couldn’t live with myself if I was forever editing what other people said or changing old posts that contained things that I wouldn’t say the same way anymore. But I suspect many people could.

It’s a tricky business, this editing of the past according to what we prefer in the present, whether the tools are an outraged conflagration or sneakily changing the narrative online. There is something rotten about our zeal to “burn it down,” whether literally or digitally. If we cannot access the past truthfully, how will we understand the moral trajectory that has led to our present vantage point? How will we cultivate the capacity to cultivate even a bit of self-critical distance from our imagined righteousness and moral purity? And, at the risk of stating what should be obvious, what gives us such confidence that our current vantage point is so free of moral contaminants? How, I wonder, will future generations evaluate our particular cultural and moral moment? My strong suspicion is that it will get rather mixed reviews.

Earlier I referenced the notion of the “refiners fire” found in Scripture. As I said, I suspect many Canadians privately view these church burnings as a kind of purificatory symbol in light of our nation’s sinful past. The main difference, of course, is that in Scripture it is God doing the purifying and refining, not us. A rather important distinction, it seems to me.

Jostling Angels

I have several friends who have recently been through diversity training at their companies. This is not uncommon these days. Many corporations are scrambling to keep up with the ethos of the moment, desperate to demonstrate the appropriate levels of commitment to equality and inclusion, terrified that they might be held liable for a stray comment or inappropriate action by one of their employees in the domains of sexuality, race, or gender. Diversity training is the way to cover their backsides. “Oh, and so said or did bad thing x? Well, we did what we could. They received diversity training. We can’t really help it if it didn’t take.” Read more

Beyond the Limits of our Puny Selfhood

Well, here’s a breath of Friday fresh air from the New York Times. It’s an article by Leigh Stein called “Influencers are the New Televangelists” and it compares modern-day social media quasi-spiritual wellness influencers like Glennon Doyle to religious hucksters from yesteryear like Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson. The comparison is apt, in my view, even if the content of their message could hardly be more different. Read more

Forgive Us Our Sins

Last year at the beginning of Lent I decided that rather than giving something up I was going to take something on. I would read Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion. What better way to journey toward Good Friday than by immersing myself in a serious theological reflection on the cross of Christ? I made it just over a hundred pages. I wish I could say I had a good reason for quitting, but I don’t really have one. I suppose I could blame COVID’s arrival in Lent 2020 and the way it colonized most of my mental bandwidth, but mostly it was just a combination of distractibility, apathy, and preoccupation with other (lesser) things. What can I say? The truth isn’t always flattering. Read more

The Good Guy

Over the last few months, I have regularly encountered recommendations, whether from friends or articles and reviews I’ve read, to watch the television show Ted Lasso. It will restore your faith in humanity, I heard. It’s the perfect antidote to this soul-sucking pandemic, I heard. It will make you smile and laugh and feel good in the midst of all that is bad in the world, I heard. I heard a great many things, very few of them bad. So, yesterday, my wife and I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. We had planned on watching one episode but by the time we turned the TV off, we had plowed through half a season. Read more

On (Not) Working Backwards

The events of one week ago at the Capitol in Washington, DC have produced a veritable torrent of outrage, analysis, reaction, despair, fear, defiance, and many other things besides. The vision of a mob of rioters descending upon this hallowed symbol of democracy was unsettling, to put it mildly. Even more distressing, from a Christian perspective, was the sight of religious imagery and language (crosses, signage, etc.) on display throughout. There is a kind of perverse irony in the fact that this event took place on the Day of Epiphany, a day when Christians celebrate the revealing of Jesus Christ as the light of the world that pierces the darkness and reveals the path of peace. There was indeed a revealing on this Epiphany, but it was not of God. Read more

2020 in Review

Well, 2020 is almost over. What does one even say at this point? It’s been a year unlike any other, a year that few saw coming and that many of us will be happy to see in the rearview mirror. 2021 doesn’t exactly beckon with unbridled optimism but the general sense seems to be that the next spin around the sun has to be better than the one that’s drawing to a close. So we desperately hope, at any rate.

The last week of a calendar year tends to be a time for reflection. Here on this little blog, it is the time when I take a glance back on the year that was. Incredibly, next month will mark my fourteenth blog-aversary (is that a word?). I imagine this makes me something of a relic. Not many are blogging any more—it’s too wordy and people don’t have much patience for wordy these days. We prefer our digital content in more bite-sized morsels. We are drawn more to the hot take than the nuanced reflection, the “gotcha” tweet over the laboured exposition, the punchy slogan as opposed to death by a thousand qualifications. The communication ecosystem that we have created and are creating worries me on many levels but, well, I’ve (wordily) written about that quite a lot over the years, so…

Moving on. As has become my custom, here are the five most viewed posts of 2020 along with a brief description of each. Read more

Trust Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust lately. As the global pandemic grinds into its ninth (tenth? eleventh?) month, I’ve noticed a decidedly weary and cynical thread in many conversations. People are fatigued, obviously. They are tired of restrictions, tired of uncertainty, tired of agonizing over how the bills will be paid, tired of being unable to spend time with people they love, tired of feeling guilty when they sneak in a bit of illicit social connection, tired of politicians and health officials wagging moralizing fingers at them daily. But beyond this, I detect a sort of resigned cynicism, a sense that nobody can be trusted, and nobody really knows what’s going on. This is a dangerous place to be. Read more

Twitchy

A few people have asked me over the last few weeks how it’s been since I deleted my Facebook account. The short answer is that I haven’t really missed it. There have been a few times when I have felt a little in the dark, not knowing something what others in a conversation did because I hadn’t seen what this or that person posted. I’m sure I’ve missed out on the odd article that I really should have read or an important update in someone’s life. These are among the expected trade offs that are part of the deal. Read more

On Selling My Attention Too Cheaply (Why I’m Deleting Facebook)

I was listlessly scrolling through Facebook recently over coffee when I reached something of a tipping point. I had just groggily plodded through a stretch that included, in order, a friend’s rather hysterical political musings, a sponsored advertisement for shoes, a post from a charity which fell under the strange category of “suggested content,” and another friend’s picture from somewhere much warmer and prettier than southern Alberta in October. I pondered, bleary-eyed, the math of my morning Facebook experience. 2/4 posts were some form of targeted advertising. 1/4 was a friend trying to get me worked up about something that was agitating them. And 1/4 was making me feel envious of someone else’s experience. That’s some pretty intolerable math, right there. Read more

I Feel Like I’m Too Suspicious of My Feelings

One of the (many) things that regularly irritates my kids about their dear old dad is that he has this exasperating tendency to insist upon precision and consistency in language. I feel sorry for them, on one level. The burden of being subjected to a father with tendencies that can run toward a dry and dour rationalism is surely one that no one should have to bear. This is no doubt among the (many) childhood ordeals they will have to unpack with a therapist at some point in the future. Read more

More Than A Feeling

There are probably better things to think about than the toxic polarizing hostilities of our cultural discourse while riding a motorcycle through the Rocky Mountains on a glorious fall Monday. I could have simply exulted in the beauty all around me or opened myself up to mid-life epiphany of some sort or another. And to be fair, I did do a fair bit of the former—the Rockies in autumn are simply spectacular (no epiphanies to speak of, alas). But I had just listened to a podcast… and just finished a book… and read a few articles about the corrosive effects of social media on democracy and the world more generally. There were some things I just couldn’t get out of my mind. And you have to fill six hours alone with your thoughts inside a helmet somehow, right? Read more

ABBA Essentials and the Perils of Unlimited Choice

“What do you wanna listen to now?” My wife asked me this question a handful of times from the passenger seat as we made our way over the Rockies and back to help our kids settle into college last weekend. Twenty-five hours in transit gives you plenty of time for listening to stuff, whether it’s podcasts, audio books, or music. Each time the question came, I would half-heartedly ponder the request for a few seconds and then respond with something along the lines of, “Um, I don’t know, nothing’s really coming to mind… I kinda need to see my options.” My wife would then furrow her brow at me, scroll through Apple Music on one of our phones, and then usually end up picking either something that one of us had downloaded recently and was thus near the top of our screens or something we had listened to in the past. Read more

On Cheerleading

I have always been suspicious of cheerleaders. Not literal cheerleaders as in the (usually) female visual accessories to (usually) male sporting events (a sexist and retrograde phenomenon, if ever there was one, but that’s another post). No, the cheerleaders I’m thinking of are those who uncritically line up behind their preferred political party or religious perspective or ideology and, well, cheer along. Read more

Monday Miscellany

Even in normal times, late July tends to be a time when things slow down. Church programs have mostly paused for the summer. Services are sparsely attended as many people flock to the cabin or the mountains or wherever else. For those stuck at work, it can be a hot, sluggish stretch of time where inspiration and motivation are in short supply. And this is, again, in normal times. During COVID time? Well, everything feels somehow worse. Words, and the motivation to produce them, seem to have abandoned me. That’s how it’s felt over the last few weeks at any rate. But a few things have been rattling around my head over the last little while. A quiet Monday morning seems as good a time as any to dislodge them. Read more

As Advertised

I don’t know much about Rachel Hollis. I haven’t read her books or listened to her marriage podcast or engaged with any of the other media she produces. I know very little about the Hollis brand and what I do know comes second hand. There was an article about her that made the rounds recently. And then she came up on a podcast that I listened to recently. My impression is that she’s built a quite significant following by offering a “get your act together” jolt of personal responsibility combined with an emphasis upon and commitment to vulnerability and authenticity. It certainly seems to be a winning combination in the digital age where we can’t seem to get enough of authenticity or advice. Read more

We Are Too Liberal With Our Contempt

Yesterday, a group of prominent artists, writers, and academics signed an open letter in Harper’s Magazine decrying the rising tide of illiberalism and ruthlessly policed ideological conformity in public discourse. There are some impressive names on the list: Margaret Atwood, Atul Gawande, Gloria Steinem, Salman Rushdie, and J.K. Rowling are just a few of the more than one hundred fifty signatories who are growing increasingly uneasy about “cancel culture” and the censuring of any viewpoints that don’t align with the orthodoxies of the moment. Read more