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Carpe MananaIs Your Church Ready to Seize Tomorrow?
By Leonard Sweet
Zondervan Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2003 Leonard Sweet
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNaturalization Class
From Manual to Digital
The four stages of revolutionary ideas
(1) "it's nonsense, don't waste my time"
(2) "it's interesting, but not important"
(3) "I always said it was a good idea"
(4) "I thought of it first"
* science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke
Immigrants are products of a Manual Age - a world of radio, TV, typewriter, film. Natives are products of a Digital Age - a world of computers, fax machines, cell phones, and WWW.
Today's brag factor is not the biggest wooden box, but the biggest bandwidth.
I grew up with a screen pet of Lassie.
Natives grew up with R2D2 and digital friends like Pokemon, pocket monsters that pop out of oval computers.
The sexiest women on TV when I was growing up? Mary Tyler Moore. The sexiest women on TV in the '90s? A borg (Star Trek Voyager, 1995) or an alien (3rd Rock from the Sun, 1997).
When I grew up, kids blew up things in microwaves - where microwaves were the size of an oven and sold for $1,000 (GE sold the first microwave in 1956).
Immigrants blow up things on screens operated by play stations so powerful they can be used in military engagements to actually deploy missiles.
I grew up in a brick-and-mortar world of rotary dials, seven-inch reel-to-reel tape recorders, teletype machines, and long-distance phone calls. It took a while, but the Museum of Modern Art finally admitted film into the realm of art. I think in terms of "switches" that turn on and off. How several million switches can function in a microprocessor the size of a fingernail is beyond my imagining.
Natives inhabit a point-and-click world where satellites are now routinely launched every week. My daring act on the typewriter was to leave the letters and go explore the numbers. Natives camp out on my unused upper shift number keys where only the cartoon character Bazooka Joe dared go: !#%^&*~/ - awaiting the imagination of one of ARPANET's creators, Ray Tomlinson, who put the "@" in email.
There is an old cartoon that shows a boy totally engrossed in reading a book. The father walks by, and growls: "Always reading. Ain't you got a mind of your own?"
For natives it is not the book but the screen that comes trailing clouds of glory.
AS SEEN ON TV
I was in the midst of an address to a youth convention, and it was not going well. Even when I moved to a more karaoke style of presentation and walked the audience while engaging them in dialogue, my feet felt like they were slogging through a quagmire. Just when the sacrament-of-failure stage started kicking in and I begin shuffling my feet ("When they fail to receive you, shake the dust off your feet," Jesus said, "and move on"), an orange-haired member of the audience chimed in, "Sweet, don't you have this on video?"
"Yes, I do. How did you know? ... Would you like to see it?" A giant sigh of relief rose from the congregation, and I headed for my virtual office (a brain bag and book bag goes with me wherever I go). As I unzipped the leather case to pull out the video, I thought to myself - But you have me! Why do you want a video when you have me? - but I gave the video to the minister of sound at the mixing table, sat down, and for the next ten minutes watched myself on screen.
When the lights went on and I stood back up, I faced an entirely different audience. The energy of the place was electrifying. "Surf's up!" I said to myself as I breathed deeply and dived in. For the next 30 minutes I surfed their spirit, surfed God's Spirit, and the waves of excitement and engagement gushed out of that room like the breaking of a big kahuna.
What happened? What made the difference? I had been legitimated by the screen. This group of natives (Gerard Kelly and others call them "screenagers") had only known me as a book person. For immigrant book culture, this was all the credentialing one needed. For natives, many of whom have graphicacy skills before they have literacy skills, the screen is what credentializes you. If you can't speak to them in their native tongue, they don't really listen to you. That phrase "As Seen on TV" is more than a tag found on advertisements, or a chain store found in malls.
The musical group Lost and Found confirms my story from their own experience. At a Youth Specialties event, the lead singer pointed out how the youth had rushed up to the mosh pit to get physically as close to the musicians as they possibly could, only to have them spend their whole time up front, at best an arms length away, looking at the big screen.
I am a card-carrying "chirograph," a person of print, a product of a textbook culture. We who are immigrants found meaning in texts and words more than stories and symbols. In some ways, as J. Leslie Houlden notes, from its beginnings Christianity was "bookish" -
copying and circulating its productions - and using not smart scrolls, but papyrus notebooks, where you wrote on both sides of the sheet, creating sets of pages. Modern Western Europe may be less sure than it was that Christianity brought us salvation; it can, however, be grateful that (even if the future is shaky) it, largely, gave us "the book."
Books still have the power to enchant (witness Harry Potter). But ubiquitous screens are shaping natives and immigrants alike in ways we have yet to understand. One study reveals that 88% of USAmerican households now claim at least two televisions. The same study also shows that "the average American kid lives in a household with three televisions, two VCRs, three radios, two tape players, two CD players, a video game player, and a computer." In China as of 2000, "96% of city families own a color television; 78% have telephones, 48% have seen an American movie, and 11% have owned stocks." The typical American child spends an average of more than 38 hours a week consuming media outside of school - the equivalent of a full-time job.
The human spirit paid a steep price for television, one of the most dehumanizing inventions of the modern era. Unaccounted for but equal in importance to the television is the remote control, which alters television from a passive consumption of what someone else is dishing out to a participant sport. Remote controls enable all of us to create our own TV programming. We design and improvise our own shows, turning the television experience from something highly representative to something highly participatory - a participation which the Internet takes even further.
Novelist Bruce Sterling, in his preface to the anthology Mirrorshades (1986), noted how technology has changed from "the giant steam-snorting wonders of the past: the Hoover Dam, the Empire State Building, the nuclear power plant" to a technology that "sticks to the skin, responds to the touch: the personal computer, the Sony Walkman, the portable telephone, the soft contact lens." Soon to be on the market is the techno-bra. It is a bra that uses miniature electronics and conductive fabric to monitor the wearer's heart rate. With a sudden change in pulse, it radios a distress call to police and identifies the bra's location. In case it is a good change in pulse, there is a cancel button on the front clasp.
FROM CODEX TO CODEC
But the screen is in many ways only a membrane to a whole new future filled with holodecks, cyborgs (already here: artificial hips, contact lenses), teleporters (already here: the fax), and who knows what else. Hard as it is to imagine, some people did live before the elaboration of chemistry's periodic tables. Hard as it will be for our descendants to imagine, we immigrants lived before the elaboration of biology's periodic tables - the human genetic code. It cannot be denied: There is a DNA that rough-hews our ends. But it can never be forgotten: Human personal identity is something that transcends our genetic identity. Family influences, personal choices, cultural conditioning assert themselves to chip an original off the DNA bloc.
The Human Genome Project (the attempt to identify all of the approximate 30,000 genes in human DNA) is the equivalent of the development of the periodic tables for chemistry. And that is with the past leaking into the future more than the future entrancing and enriching scientists' approach. The Human Genome Project has, for a number of interesting reasons, been hostage to history and to immigrant understandings of the human body as a machine that can be deciphered by taking it apart and reducing it to its most basic level.
Biotechnology, the most important science of the next hundred years, is going to make a lot of people angry. It will also make a lot of people rich. It will create social and epistemic changes yet unimaginable. Thanks to genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology (notice there are no raw materials in this new technology, only knowledge), double-edged swords have never been sharper. With every step we take there will be downsides and upsides, good geniuses (chemist Mendeleyev and monk Mendel) and bad geniuses (Dr. Mengele) separated by only the curl on a pig's tail.
These series of "double-edged swords" that natives will face require a moral vision and deftness of discernment that makes the ethical dilemmas immigrants faced in the modern world look like layups. Natives will need to be innocent as a dove, shrewd as a snake, and as alert for wolves in sheep's clothing as a watchdog.
Why? Biotechnology puts us at a threshold for the genetic design of everything. We will be able to breed people for excellence in certain areas - enhanced athletic, musical, and dance ability. We will have the capability of reinventing nature and ourselves. We will struggle with new definitions of individual identity and untold other challenges unveiled by this new technology.
What will happen when natives take over biology's genetic tables? As the life sciences merge with the computer sciences, how will humans be redefined? How will natives shape "life," "nature," "human" into spiritual significance? Who will be the natives, and who will be the immigrants in the posthuman world of our 22nd-century grandchildren?
Raymond Kurzweil, inventor of reading machines for the blind and electronic keyboards, predicts that "we will have the computing power of the human brain - about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion connectors - in a $1,000 PC by around 2019." Hans Moravec, another computer scientist and pioneer of mobile robot research, argues that the human species, through research in artificial life, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, virtual reality, genetic algorithms, genetic programming, optical, DNA, and quantum computing (as well as other areas not yet conceived), may be obsoletizing itself as the highest point of creation.
The human brain has only a short time left as the smartest thing on earth. The speed and complexity of computers will continue to double every 18 months through 2012. By then the density of computer circuits will have jumped 1,000 fold, and the raw processing power of a human brain will fit into a shoe box.
Are we passing the "spiritual baton to software minds that will swim in virtual realities of a thousand sorts that we cannot even begin to imagine," as cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter asks it? Are your children and mine the last to experience the true "human condition"? Are our children's children destined to be posthuman?
All these questions do not even posit the existence of quantum computers.
The quantum computer has implications as revolutionary as any piece of technology in history. If such a machine could be built, it would transform not just the computer industry, but our experience of physical existence itself. In a sense, it would lead to a blending of real and virtual reality.
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has further calculated that "a quantum computer with only 300 electrons would have more components in its superposition than all the atoms in the observable universe!"
Douglas Hofstadter invited a blue-ribbon panel of experts - Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Bill Joy (chief scientist at SUN microsystems), John Holland (inventor of Genetic algorithms), Ralph Merkle (nanotechnology scientist), Kevin Kelly (Wired editor), Frank Drake (radio astronomer), John Koza (inventor of genetic programming) - to address this question: "Will Spiritual Robots Replace Humanity By 2100?" The symposium was held on 1 April 2000 at Stanford University to an overflow crowd. The scientists differed widely over the whens, hows, whys, and dangers of self-replicating computers. But whether or not we would have intelligent, emotional, "spiritual" machines in our future was a given.
So far our machines are emerging along a path that is still controlled by us. But for how long? In the last century computers became so sophisticated, they passed beyond human grasp. "It's becoming more like our relationship to nature," contends Danny Hills. "It's a digital jungle. We've created this jungle which we planted the seeds for but which we're not totally in control of any more." The movie Bicentennial Man (1999) is a native parable as is Stephen Spielberg's AI (2001). Native culture has already created computers so complex, so complicated that they can only be programmed by other computers, computers that are literally beyond any human brain's comprehension.... At what point beyond any human being's control?
Anyone who doesn't have qualms and forebodings about the merger of the born and the made is a fool. But a lot of the church's fear of technology is about as perceptive as the Midwest resident's protest of a proposal to locate a biomedical research laboratory within the community. Her complaint? "They're trying to bring DNA into my neighborhood!"
Mr. Fairchild was a London nurseryman who died in 1729. He published the classic The City Gardener (1722). But he is best known for cross
Excerpted from Carpe Manana by Leonard Sweet Copyright © 2003 by Leonard Sweet. Excerpted by permission.
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