Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Digital Technology

Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents

It’s been a week or two of finishing off books that have been sitting on the bookshelf in my office. One of the latest was Close to the Machine: Technophilia and Its Discontents by Ellen Ullman. An Amazon review notes that:

Close to the Machine explores a world in which ‘the real world and its uses no longer matter.’ This memoir examines the relationship between human and machine, between material and cyberworlds and reminds us that the body and soul exist before and after any machine.

The book itself was okay. I could identify with a lot in it but at times the text seemed to drag. One passage in particular thought struck me

In this sense, we virtual workers are everyone’s future. We wander from job to job, and now it’s hard for anyone to stay put anymore. Our job commitments are contractual, contingent, impermanent, and this model of insecure life is spreading outward from us. I may be wrong, but I have this idea that we programmers are the world’s canaries. We spend out time alone in front of monitors; now look up at any office building, look into living-room windows at night: so many people sitting alone in front of monitors. We lead machine-centered lives; now everyone’s life is full of automated tellers, portable phones, pages, keyboards, mice. We live in a contest of the fittest, where the most knowledgeable and skillful win and the rest are discarded; and this is the working life that waits for everybody. Everyone agrees: be a knowledge worker or be left behind. Technical people, consultants, contract programmers: we are going first. We fly down and down, closer and closer to the virtualize life, and where we go the world is following.

Had me stop and think about churches and Christians caught up in this – of these models applied to congregations – servants of God and fellow wayfarers with commitments and relationships described as “contractual, contingent, impermanent”.

Maybe it would be good to be an oasis in this world – a place of solidity, permanence, lasting relationships – even for those who briefly pass through; cast about by the powerful and damaging forces of the virtual world. The Kingdom of God belongs to those who have been discarded.