Archives For Technology

By no means is this a conclusive run down on what I see as the need to find, and advocate for, a fair use of the vehicles we choose to communicate, and receive information through.  By pointing out inconsistencies, and connecting them to a possible cause, my purpose here is primarily an attempt to suggest, that when it comes to social media, we practice the proverb of looking before we leap.

A few years back an incident showed me the contrast between hard reality, and cheap comment. Comments from people, who in the comfort of relative security, only seem to be far more concerned with the side of the story that sells best, than with finding balance.

Surely, this is far from what media outlets mean by the term integrity and investigative journalism? To his credit, Bennett pushes back against the leading questions made by the anchor-man, quickly realising, not without some frustration, that the interview had ended before it had really begun.

Remarking:

“…You’re invited to a situation like this..it’s just great sitting on the sidelines, just telling us how to react” {2:39} – (Naftali Bennett, Isreal’s Economic Minister)

At the time, Australian journalist and political commentator Andrew Bolt, in support of Bennett, rightly noted:

It’s easy to say “disproportionate” when you’re sitting in London

The same applies to social media. It’s easy to make criticisms when sitting behind a keyboard.

We need make room for each other. We need to look before we leap. We need to make room for giving consideration to context, details, and careful comment. Patience is the imperative (if not the virtue), mainly because we’re all still trying to figure out live in a technological society, and how to use this technological freedom responsibly.

In spite of the evidence, or any quest for the truth, and balance. Like some aspects of the main stream media, social media can become a misinformation behemoth.

In the hands of resourceful and ambitious communicators, it has the disturbing potential to become the ultimate propaganda machine.

As hashtags and memes trend towards the ridiculous. The misuse of the mechanism allows an industrial grade hysteria to push a smoke screen of emotions over the facts, extinguishing balance and respectful dialogue.

The march of memes takes to the virtual street, utilising the same mass marketing concepts of Edward Bernays (1891-1995) that was so fundamental to fascism and its control of images.

By calling upon those willing to mindlessly wave around clichés and slogans, a mob-in-revolt is created. Its cause gathers momentum, often recklessly damning anything that stands to speak freely in reasoned disagreement against it, as “hate speech or racism”.

The mob-in-revolt lowers protest to the quantity of “likes, shares or follows”. Sometimes asserting itself under a mechanic of anonymity, which denies their target of protest any right of reply.

The ivory colossus of cyber communities end up inadvertently propagating totalitarianism. Inviting a repugnant irony through the vitriolic intolerance, exhibited by irresponsible and repressive armchair activists, who live in glass houses.

With small amounts of fact, and information, these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. The term “hate speech”, for example, is utilised as a toxic and ambiguous whip statement, and is thus thrown around flippantly and without qualification. This fuels an irate frenzy of boycotts, accusation and intolerance.

A restrained, and civilised exchange of ideas is set adrift, by an unrestrained tribalism. It’s members march alongside images, marked by oversimplification. At its core is a subjectivism,  full of dismissive ridicule and cynical discounting. Consequently, social media can tend to magnify that which is dysfunctional and shocking, over against,

‘…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,  excellent, or worthy of praise…’ (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

An ‘activism’ like this measures efficiency by vanity metrics. This is because thoughtless approval can be translated into the currency of likes, shares and/or followers. In this case, why not mindlessly wave flags and howl with the wolves? The assumption being that if the price is right, so the comment should be also. Who cares if its wrong?

The questions then are:

Does self-interest, in a quest for approval, play a role in commenting, liking or sharing? If so do such considerations hinder an authentic, responsible but also vulnerable contribution? Does it drive out self-respect the same way that the mindless-mob-in-revolt drives out  decency and the respect for others?

American President John Adams, citing the prophet Jeremiah, wrote:

‘Let me conclude, by advising all men to look into their own hearts, which they will find to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). Let them consider how extremely addicted they are to magnify and exaggerate the injuries that are offered to themselves, and to diminish and extenuate the wrongs that they offer to others. They ought, therefore, to be too modest and diffident of their own judgment, when their own passions and prejudices and interests are concerned…’[i]

Adams’ caution here cries out for a fair hearing. We should not politicise the pain of others.

We can do this by removing any hint of benefit to our social standing, and unmasking the transactions that hide self-interest behind indifference, or behind a facade of good intentions. We can do this by looking before we leap; giving real consideration to context, details, and careful comment.

As Australian scholar, Dr. John Dickson, in a comment about a recent debate on Facebook, once said, “redeem the medium”[ii].

 


References:

{Dedicated to the memory of Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941-2013), a list of her works can be found here.}

[i] Adams, J. 1851 On Private Revenge http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2101 #Adams_1431-03_2153 Sourced: 23/07/2014

[ii] Dickson wrote this in response to the suggestion that he move a discussion to another site, because of the communication limitations of social media.

Originally published 23rd July, 2014, under the heading Truth & Balance Vs. The side of the Story that Sells Best. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 9th November, 2018 under the headline: Hate speech is a myth: It’s a shaming control technique used by those who can’t debate the issue.

In criticising Marx’s Utopian communist dream, Simone Weil also provided an exemplary commentary on the final part of the movie Wall-E. The crux of which is found here:

“We have only to bear in mind the weakness of human nature to understand that an existence from which the very notion of work had pretty well disappeared would be delivered over to the play of the passions and perhaps to madness; there is no self-mastery without discipline, and there is no other source of discipline for man than the effort demanded in overcoming external obstacles.
A nation of idlers might well amuse itself by giving itself obstacles to overcome, exercise itself in the sciences, in the arts, in games; but the efforts that are the result of pure whim do not form for a man a means of controlling his own whims. It is the obstacles we encounter and that have to be overcome which give us the opportunity for self-conquest.”
(The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression, 1934:80) [i]

Weil is critiquing Karl Marx’s ideal society. Oppression and exploitation, as understood by Marx, can only be eliminated when we have eliminated the curse of work. This is an either-or fallacy and Weil rightly takes it to task. Even if the worker owns the means of production, instead of being the means by which production happens, the worker is left with having to overcome his or her own vices, such as sloth.

Creativity requires work. Tending to gardens in order to enjoy them requires work. Adam, for example, was given the task of tending and keeping the garden before the fall (Genesis 2:15). This was one of God’s first commands to humans. Work becomes cursed once Adam and Eve fall out with God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:19, 23). Something that were explicitly told not to do.

Despite this, God graciously works to clothe them, and in what could be described as discipline, moves to protect humanity from further destruction, by closing the Garden off to humanity. Eden’s gates are shut and guarded by angel and flaming sword (Genesis 3:24).

The result is that work is redefined by sin. It’s no longer something done in partnership with God. Work becomes what it was never intended to be, cursed, because humanity took it upon themselves to become the source of morality, good and evil.

Every dictator this side of Eden’s gates stands as the master, determining right and wrong, good and evil, to be whatever he or she dictates. The transcendent word of God, made imminent to us by His revelation, is replaced by the word of man and the word of woman.

Weil’s criticism doesn’t specifically mention Genesis like this, but the sentiment is shared. Work cannot be eradicated, it can only be reformed. It can only be redeemed. Work that begins in God’s work on our behalf. Just like the clothes made for Adam and Eve to replace their own meagre work (Genesis 3:7).

This is because the absence of work, which is said to set the worker free, only ends up enslaving the worker. Likewise the absence in our own work is flawed, if the God who lovingly summons us through His own work is ejected or forgotten. The worker is subjected to an ‘unconditional surrender to caprice’ [ii].

According to Weil, there is no way to avoid work, no way of eliminating it without also eliminating ourselves. Therefore, work, in the quest to fight oppression and exploitation of the worker, has to be redefined, reformed, then validated, it cannot be eradicated.

True liberty, writes Weil, is not ‘defined by a relationship between desire & its satisfaction, but by a relationship between thought & action.’ [iii]. Life requires work. Progress requires effort and a reliable foundation, not a mechanised overlord, or a machine that replaces human thought. I see a lot of room in Weil’s thought here for Dallas Willard’s mighty theme, ‘grace is opposed to earning, but not to effort’ (The Great Omission, 2006).

Weil writes:

“Bureaucratic machines almost reach the point of taking the place of leaders. Thus, in all spheres, thought, the prerogative of the individual, is subordinated to vast mechanisms which crystallize collective life, and that is so to such an extent that we have almost lost the notion of what real thought is.”
(1934. p.104) [iv]

My translation:

“If we have machines to tell us what to think, who needs to learn how to think? ‘Ah, just google it’ or ‘I don’t need to be interested in government, if I leave them be, they’ll leave me be. Each to their own.”

Weil’s words match perfectly with the story-line of Wall-E. When the time comes for humanity to return to earth after a long period of waiting, the machines designed to keep humanity safe, become humanity’s prison wardens. They know what’s best. When evidence is presented that earth is now liveable again, the machine seeks to destroy it. The only thing in its way is a lowly earth robot called Wall-E, who, while still a machine, has human-like consciousness. Unwittingly he finds himself in a struggle for human freedom.

Wall-E is a good illustration for the soulless mechanisation that Simone Weil was criticising. On board the ship, humans have gradually become obese, having nothing to do, but be served by their machines. All work has been eradicated. The worker is free, only to find themselves held captive under the dominion of their own creation. Even the Captain is moved around in a chair. All he really does is fill a role to assuage appearances that says to everybody on board that a human is still in charge.

Another example comes from the band Styx. ‘Mr. Roboto’,  lifts Weil’s concerns straight up from the page they were written on:

“The problem’s plain to see, too much technology.
Machines to save our lives, machines dehumanize”
(Dennis DeYoung, 1983)

Simone Weil isn’t advocating a troglodyte existence. Her criticism is about our dependence on technology; a dangerously indifferent and slothful dependence which ultimately works against humanity.  As Weil wrote, ‘the picture of a completely oppressive social life is where every individual is subject to the operation of a blind mechanism.’ (p.94) [v] This is already happening when it comes to who we rely on for information, morality, ethics, and how we approach education.

To be so convinced that true reality (or freedom) is existence without the One who birthed that existence, is to give in to an arrogance which rejects God’s grace, and chains humanity to the Dark agenda of total extinction.


 References:

[i] Weil, S. 1934 The Causes of Liberty & Social Oppression in Oppression & Liberty, Routledge & Kegan Paul 1958.

[ii] ibid, p.80

[iii] ibid, p.81

[iv] ibid, p.104

[v] ibid, p.94

Image: Simone Weil, date unknown sourced 9th December 2017, from brainpickings.org

Blog sidepic 1 GVLLast month I included a reader participation post, wherein budding poets interested in the art of haiku, were encouraged to make a contribution.

The theme for October was ‘Table Fellowship’ and a couple of brave bloggers joined me in dousing the idea in a display of creativity.

The how?

Write a haiku. Then share it in one of two ways:

a) Blog your haiku and link back to this thread, or b) Post your haiku in the comments section

The what?

November’s theme: Technological Pet Peeves.

My offering:

Zero charge.
Rapid response. PS3 chaos.
Black screen, flat controller.

{Not sure how, or what? Haiku originated in Japan. It is a form of poetry that follows a 5, 7, 5 syllable structure, over 3 short sentences. While still sticking to basic idea, Haiku in English is usually more flexible.}


Image: Mine. Created using the photo editor over @ picmonkey.com

{I was not paid to promote anyone or anything for this post}

When it comes to improving context and expression on social media, #hashtags can empower written communication.

For example #hashtags can provide:

 sharp relief…

8830305566_b67bb323af_z

Image: AdamRobertsEF, sourced from Flickr 27th May 2014

They do this by allowing improved delivery of the message. Such as providing context, enhancing dialogue and uplifting an otherwise impoverished form of expression. Hashtags allow the author and the reader to reach beyond the limitations of non-verbal, faceless communication.

However, used on their own #hashtags can be:

hashtags

Jasmine Henry, writing for ragan.com, suggests six areas of social media etiquette where businesses (and I think people in general) should use caution when wielding the might of the hashtag.

Jasmine writes:

First, beware of using ‘too many hashtags. Overuse is annoying and can be difficult to read’.

Second, be careful of the ‘irrelevant use of hashtags.’ There’s no need to hashtag every post.

Third, proper social media etiquette requires a limit of only ‘three to four words’ behind a hashtag. This allows for improved readability.

Fourth, don’t ‘over promote a self-made hashtag‘. Be careful you’re not over stating what is obvious to the reader.

Fifth, understand the mechanics behind hashtags. ‘Be considerate of the trend in order to avoid looking like you are jumping into a pre-existing conversation without having something relevant to contribute to that conversation.’

Lastly, be sure that the hashtag relates to the trend. Avoid ‘hashtag sampling, by misusing or miscalculating the contextual meaning within a hashtag trend’

The Church would do well to not overlook the usefulness, significance and potential of hashtags. Their use allows for bridge building as the hashtag mechanics can carry the message further. One outcome suggested by a hypothetical scenario might be when a person in need of encouragement lands upon a ”trend” directing them back to the Gospel, or the sender opening up opportunity for fellowship, responsible care and/or contextual mission.

Some of us might be unaware of this ”etiquette”, since a lot of people are all awkwardly still working out how to use this technology in community. I had some idea, but it wasn’t until I looked more into it that I realised the use of hashtags is actually not a bad thing.

The fuss in using hashtags appears to involve nothing more than concerns about their overuse and the uncertainly of their usefulness, significance and potential.

These are also important points here that can be made about how this relates to pastoral care and evangelism in an online mirco-blogging environment. For instance, hashtags can avoid a passive aggressive tone when presenting shared material. In a pre-emptive sense, used properly hashtags have the potential to defuse rather than ignite misgivings about the Church, the Bible and God.

As long as the mechanics are understood and not hindered by their programmers or our own poorly considered words, the hashtag allows a way for us to reinforce the context of what we are trying to say. As result we have a way to overcome the limitations of faceless-expressionless communication and the obstacle of misunderstandings unique to social media.

 

hashtag Merriam_Webster

Image: Merriam-Webster

 

Source:

Henry, J. 2012 The 6 most irritating ways to use hashtags on Twitter, sourced from ragan.com