(UPDATE: For copies of this lesson – please contact me via email or @bbblggr)
When it comes to my workday, I tend to stick to a regimen. Among other things, the regimen consists of eating lunch at 12pm. It’s lunchtime. That’s about the same time that most people eat lunch. It works for me.
On the weekends, I tend to stick to the same schedule. This is a fact that my wife is acutely aware of:
“Sweetheart – it’s lunch time. What do you want to eat?”
“Why do you want to eat now? I’m not hungry.”
“It’s twelve o’clock – lunchtime. It’s time to eat.”
“Why do you want to eat – because you’re hungry, or because it’s twelve o’clock?”
My wife’s observation, beyond pointing out the fact that I can get stuck in my schedule, is extremely relevant when it comes to our discussion of how we see time, and how we use technology. In Scripture, God reveals two perspectives on time that are useful in this discussion. The one concept of time can be seen in Paul’s re-telling of his voyage to Rome in Acts, Chapter 27:6-9:
6 There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. 7 We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. 8 We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement.[a]
Paul is describing how, due to stormy weather, the trip to Rome took more time than expected. Here, time (referred to as chronos in the Greek) is measurable and quantifiable. Time is a number on a watch face or a day on a calendar. This is how most of us interact with time on a regular basis. Businesses run on this type of time. Meetings are scheduled and contracts become binding based on this type of time. An event finds it’s meaning based on a moment defined by the clock. Because the clock says it is this moment in the day, then this event needs to take place (like lunchtime).
Since chronos is quantifiable, it is the type of time we most often deal with when we use technology. A meeting reminder alerts us 15 minutes before the start of the meeting. We get a beep or a buzz the second a new message arrives in our Inbox. We want to receive the news and information we like faster and faster. Moments and task find their importance based on the output of a time piece.
A second concept of time is illustrated in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Here – a “time” or “season” is a bit more of an abstract concept. Called kairos in Greek, this concept of time is not governed by a clock or calendar. Time, as described here, is based on the suitability of the circumstances involved. The state of conditions is such that this thing (whatever it is) is ready to take place. The time is right. This concept of time is based on judgment and discernment. For us to be capable of identifying these kairos moments, we aware of what’s going on around us. We need to be sensitive to changes in people and circumstances.
The challenge that we are faced with is that as technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, we are being governed by chronos time – time dictated by the calendar. Our jobs and our families are expecting more from us. Our devices constantly alert us of new bits of information that need our immediate attention. To answer all these screaming voices and fill all of these outstretched hands, we resort to multi-tasking – typically with the aide of a digital device. We answer emails while with our family. We bring more work home. We send texts while out with friends.
As we use multi-tasking to satisfy our chronos time responsibilities, we are at risk of missing out on important kairos time moments. The divided attention required in multitasking makes it harder to be aware of the conditions around us. Being aware of circumstances is required to be able to discern the “right” time. That moment when a stubborn friend is open to hearing your thoughts. Or the moment when a troubled family member needs to hear an encouraging word from you. These moments aren’t set by a calendar or clock. These are moments that occur when the conditions are right for them to happen. We need to be attentive in order to discern when these kairos moments are upon us. In other words, we need to be present. Kairos doesn’t work in a multi-tasking world.
How do we ensure that we will be ready and available when those kairos moments occur?
We must be willing to draw lines. We must be willing to put limits on the technology-enabled flood of information that flows into our consciousness. Before we jump to answer the next alert from our digital device, we must assess the importance of the moment we are in. Part of that assessment must include the understanding that time “doing nothing” or “just hanging out” with people is important. Important enough to set aside time to ONLY do that and nothing else. We must also accept the fact that there are times when we simply can’t effectively do two things at once, even though technology appears to give us that ability.
We must live in a way that reflects an appreciation of both chronos and kairos.
Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Part of the primary goal of this blog is to encourage careful, critical consideration of how technology is impacting our lives and affecting how we see ourselves. This week episode of PBS’ Frontline, “Generation Like” does an excellent job of doing just that. The one-hour documentary, narrated, written, and produced by Douglas Rushkoff, explores how major corporations use social media to get teens to market their products for them.
More importantly, this documentary explores the fact that our new, highly networked culture has begun a race for attention and affirmation. Social media has given us a chance to tell our stories to the world, but is anyone listening? And if they aren’t, but what does that say about us? How does one get attention in an online world where thousands (if not millions) of voices are all screaming for eyeballs? What we see in the documentary is that teens, in a effort to be “Liked”, are increasingly willing to shape and mold their personalities into whatever gets that attention and affirmation.
While the show focuses on teens and social media, the same behavior can be seen on more “grown-up” forms of social media, such as LinkedIn or any dating website.
“Generation Like” is an informative, insightful, and important documentary that should be required viewing for anyone who uses social media (or the internet). Douglas Rushkoff (who’s work we’ve previously discussed on this site) has hit another one out of the park.
Watch the full “Generation Like” documentary on Frontline’s website (LINK).
What does a culture increasingly focused on peer approval and acceptance mean for Christianity – a faith that calls its adherents to be in the world, but not of the world – (John 17:14-15)?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
“Forgive Me if I’m Late” is one of my favorite bossa nova songs from the 1960’s. The Vince Guaraldi (yup – the Charlie Brown guy) version is a particular favorite of mine. Since the movie “HER” was widely released in the US in early January and I’m just now getting around to writing my review, I would ask, like the song previously mentioned, that you forgive my tardiness.
Why review this film, a Spike Jonze -directed opus that tells the futuristic story of a lonely tech worker who falls in love with a computer operating system? The value of this forward-looking film comes from its attempt to tackle many complex questions. Questions that have arisen due to of the creation of new machines, equipped with sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI), that think and act like humans. Questions like:
– What makes something human?
– What should be the boundaries associated with human-machine interaction?
– What impact will human/machine interaction have on the ability of humans to relate with each other?
These are all important questions that, given the current direction of technological advancement, we will all have to answer soon than we think. Autonomous machines like self-driving cars, context-aware services like Google Now, and AI’s designed to fool people into thinking they’re human already exist. It likely won’t be long until we all spend at least part of our day interacting with machines that react and respond in ways very much like humans.
“HER” is the story of Theodore, an employee at an Internet Company in the not too distant future. Theodore makes his living writing personalized, heart-felt letters (love letters, apologies) for other people, complete with computer fonts designed to look like the handwriting of the customer. While Theodore is paid to document and express other people’s deepest emotions to their loved ones, he lives a very lonely existence. Divorced and living alone, his human relationships are limited to a few well-meaning friends (a married couple who lives in his building) and individuals who he interacts with in online games and chat rooms. Searching for companionship, Theodore tries to meet women through chat rooms, dating services, and set-ups arranged by friends. None of these prove to be successful. Frustrated and alone, he eventually purchases OS 1, a computer operating system (like Windows 7, or Mac OS X) that isn’t simply a means of interacting with your computer. OS 1, after asking the user a series of deep questions during installation process (“Describe your relationship with your mother.”), creates a unique “consciousness”. Talking to this consciousness is the primary way which the user interacts with the machine (throw out your mouse and keyboard). Theodore’s consciousness is named Samantha. After a lot of talking, sharing, and flirting, Theodore and Samantha fall in love. Through the rest of the movie, Theodore and Samantha’s relationship is shaped and formed as they navigate typical relationship issues (trust, communication) and not-so typical issues, such as the fact that Samantha doesn’t exist in physical form. The climax of the film (no spoilers here) is a bit open-ended, neither making conclusions about the validity of the relationship, nor saying the two will live happily ever after.
While raising several points worth discussion, this film asks the audience a key question which is worth considering from a Christian perspective:
What make us human?
The film advances multiple arguments to assert the “humanness” of Samantha. Right from the start, the OS 1 system is described as a “consciousness”, making it something other than a machine. During their first conversation, Theodore says a few things that hint to Samantha that she’s “just a machine”. In response, Samantha points out that, while she starts off as lines of code created by hundreds of programmers, she is designed to “learn and grow from my experiences. Just like you.”. As their relationship grows, most people in Theodore’s life are accepting of his relationship with Samantha. There is a point in the film where Theodore begins to question the validity of his relationship with Samantha. Amy, one of Theodore’s once-married-then-divorced friends, tells him that he should “allow himself joy”. Later in the film, Theodore and Samantha also double-date with a flesh and blood couple. As Samantha experiences more of the world (places she goes with Theodore, talking to other computer consciousnesses and people via the Web), she makes other statements that further speak to her proclaimed humanness, such as:
“I feel like I’m more than what they programmed…”
“…when I decided to love you.”
“I’m not a computer. I just don’t have a body.”
While the film doesn’t come out and conclusively advocate for AI personhood, it appears to lean in that direction.
Addressing Samantha’s potential humanity from a Scriptural perspective, raises a few key questions Firstly, Genesis 1:26-27 speaks to the origins of humanity:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
As this scripture emphasizes, humans are made in God’s image. This is an essential point of understanding. Being human, we reflect certain aspects of our Creator, including the ability to love, and in particular the ability to choose to love. God chose to love humanity, as reflected in the fact that He created us and He continues to provide for us. Most importantly, He showed us He loved us by providing us means for salvation through Jesus the Christ, despite the fact of our sinful and rebellious nature.
We, as humans, can in turn choose to love God, or not. We can choose to love other people, or not.
Just because we are made in God’s image doesn’t mean that we are equivalent to God. We fall woefully short of God’s examples of righteousness, grace, and mercy. That’s why salvation through Christ is so important.
Being a reflection of a something does not make it equivalent to the original.
Here’s where things start to get rough for Samantha and her claims at humanness. While she may learn and change from her experiences like humans, her ability to choose to love (or choose anything else for that matter) is hamstrung by the perspectives give to her programmers. She was given a set understanding of how the world works (her programming) when she was first designed by her programmers. The form of her consciousness was then further refined by Theodore based on the responses to his questions during installation. Therefore, while Samantha may be able to learn and grow based on her experiences, how she interprets those experiences (“Dirty Dancing was a great movie!” vs. “Dirty Dancing was a boring chick-flick.”) is based on the commands and direction provided by OS 1’s programmers and Theodore.
For example – during the installation process, Theodore assigned Samantha a female gender. Assigning the consciousness a gender means that Theodore assigned it a perspective or outlook on the world (male or female) that would drastically impact its ability to “learn and grow” from its experiences. The composition of that male or female world outlook – what it consists of (what makes someone male or female) would be a result of the thoughts and perspectives of the programmers. Many of Samantha’s choices and points of view are locked (or at least limited) in by the decisions of her creators.
If we humans were created in the image of God, then Samantha was created in the image of humans.
And as stated earlier, a reflection of something is not equivalent to the original. Therefore, based on a biblical viewpoint, Samantha (and in the real world – machines with AI) is not human.
At this point, dear reader, you might be asking,
“Why did he just go through that long-winded biblical explanation to tell me something that I already knew?”
Over the past several years, computers have gotten much better at doing so many things, from playing our music and movies, to booking our vacations, to performing surgery on us. As technologies advance, these machines, while they may not be completely capable of replicating human behavior, will reach a level that is deceptively close. And while “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, human love involves a lot of time and work. It is also very messy and frequently painful.
Humans disappoint. A lot.
Machines however, do exactly what they are programmed to do.
Given that math it might, at some point in the not-too-distant future, make logical sense for people in need of love to sign up for the “simulation” of love, offering 90% of the feeling and none of the work or risk. This would apply in not only romantic circumstances, but in other types of relationships.
With that potential future on the horizon, it never hurts to go back to God’s Word for a reminder of who we are, what it means to be human, and what it means to love. It’s not love if it’s not a choice.
That said – I congratulate Spike Jonze on the creation of a thoughtful movie that will hopefully spark much thought and discussion.
Seen the movie? Have a different perspective?
Share your thoughts in the Comments!
Here’s a fun exercise: Watch the new Microsoft commercial ‘Empowering’ below. It’s part of the company’s Superbowl advertising blitz.
Not bad – eh?
Now watch it again, but this time, replace the word ‘technology’ with Christ. Isn’t it weird how easily a tech company commercial is so easily turned into a something that sounds like a Sunday sermon?
The terms used in the voice-over (“hope for the hopeless”, “voice for the voiceless”, “technology can unite us all”) are further intensified by the miraculous nature of the images. A blind man who now sees (in order to paint). Children without legs who can now walk. A deaf person who hears for the first time. Don’t misunderstand me – these are great things that we should all celebrate. However – should we put our “hope’ in technology because of them?
A more important question we should all ask: Why does a commercial for a software company sound so much like a call to faith?
Without question, many technological advances have made possible an array of digital tools which have changed our lives in innumerable ways – both for better and for worse. However, humanity runs into a problem when we begin to deify the tools and not the God who supplied the knowledge, materials, and understanding that made the tools possible.
Even secular authors, such as Evgeny Morozov in his book “Click Here to Save Everything”, have questioned the wisdom of technological solutionism.
Do you think Microsoft’s new commercial is calling us to put our faith in technology?
Or is this just a simple Superbowl commercial?
Sound off in the comments!
We’ve all been there before. An attempt to quickly send an email, or google the weather for today unexpectedly turns into an hour-long expedition on the information superhighway. An innocent search for something useful and needed (“how to cut onions without tears”) quickly turns into a desperate search to for the most meaningless bit of information (“What’s the guy who played Carlton on ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ doing now?”).
Apparently, the consequence of having all of the world’s information at our fingertips (most of it, anyway) is living in a state of permanent distraction.
This is increasingly true when the things we want to do (watch movies, listen to music, read the latest celebrity news…) live on the same device as the things we NEED to do (finish homework, create presentations for work, write blog posts…). The same laptop we use for our frequently unpleasant but very necessary productive work is the same device we use for our fun but unproductive (and sometimes harmful) entertainment. The temptation to leave the thing we need to do for the thing we want to do is ever-present in us.
Software developers provide apps that attempt us to let us have our cake and eat it too. In the midst of doing what we need to do, apps such as Tweetbot and UberSocial tell us the latest news about the things we like. For many of us, these attempts at multi-tasking simply lead to diminished results.
If you’re using a machine that can do anything, it’s natural to want to do everything – particularly our favorite things. This makes it increasingly difficult to get any one “thing” done.
Further complicating this matter for the Christian is God’s call for us to keep our minds on things heavenly. In Philippians 4:8, Paul pleads with believers:
“Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy – think about such things”.
He repeats this thought in his message to the Colossians (3:1-3):
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things”.
But how can I keep my mind on things above when the same computer I’m using to use to finish my report can also easily satisfy my desire to know if Kim and Kanye are expecting baby #2?
With such a high potential for distraction, it’s easy to see how Christians can use technology to foster a mind focused on the earthly and not heavenly things. At the very least, it’s a constant challenge. The secular and the sacred sit together, side-by-side, on the same device.
Along with this challenge however, technology offers a useful tool in identifying areas of where we need to grow as Christians. These devices in some way, act as a giant Rorschach test. If we can now go anywhere (via the Internet), and look at anything, what do we choose to look at? Where would you go? What do you choose to set your mind on?
The answer to these questions for each of us already exists. Just look in your browser’s history. Not unlike a personal journal, the Internet history in our browsers keeps a running log of the things we choose to keep our minds. While a day’s worth of browsing might not show you everything, reviewing you browsing history over weeks and months (Apple’s Safari browser goes back two months) will undoubtedly yield a pattern from which we can learn a great deal. Mixed in amongst the task-oriented searches (looking up recipes, finding the right shoes for the kids), you will find many site visits of choice. Websites you chose to visit. Things you chose to set your mind on. And upon further investigation, you will likely see patterns emerge. What do those things in your history say about the type of things you want to keep in your mind? How are those things viewed in God’s eyes? Try to think back to what was going on when you visited those sites. Why did you choose to go there? Was it during a stressful time? Were you just bored? What did you do after you went to those sites?
This information can be a useful tool for the Christian who is working to rid their mind of the things of this world and focus more on the things of God. It can also be a tool for identifying false gods we’ve allowed to creep into our lives.
This exercise is even more telling if we review the browsing history on our smartphones, because for many of us, this is increasingly our primary portal into the online world.
After completing this exercise, we may choose to (or choose not to) make conclusions about ourselves and the things we value based on our online activities. One thing, however, is certain. The social media sites, search engines, retailers, companies, and government agencies who are feverishly collecting data about what we do both online and offline ARE making conclusions about us based on this data.
Did you give this exercise a try? Did you learn anything new?
Share your thoughts in the comments!