The church choir that I am section leader for has been invited to Carnegie Hall to sing a concert featuring a new choral work by Dan Forrest, LUX: The Dawn From On High (Lux being Latin for Light). While I won’t be going to Carnegie, for many reasons, having sung there before among them, I have loved learning the music with my choir. The crux of the piece talks about the importance of light, light as a blessing and a spiritual end result from a life- an abundance of light as a heavenly reward. The text of the piece from religious texts and comments on the end of one’s life being surrounded by light. It makes me think of a pre-electric age the importance of light and the power of the darkness. Restoration theaters had candle wick trimmers whose job it was to keep the candles burning throughout the performance. In New England, on the 19th of May 1780, is known as New England’s Dark Day where candles were needed from noon to midnight, so heavy was the cloud cover. Perhaps we still harbor that childhood fear of the dark and bathe ourselves in light to protect ourselves from the unknown. Is that the reason for the preponderance of light in the religious texts describing heavenly bliss? What would be better in the afterlife than the things that we lack in this life? With that thought in mind, it makes me wonder what would be the valued thing would be that would greet us in a contemporary afterlife. What would be our final blissful reward in heaven? In short, what would be the final reward to a culture that has reveled in abundance and immediacy in everything?
Last week in church our choir sang a piece with a text by Christina Rossetti, “What Do the Stars Do?” and the response to what they do stuck in my mind. It seems that to Rossetti, the stars spin and do their makers will. As we go forward in the creation of artificial intelligence and the thinking computers and robots, will we be comfortable with setting them free to do our will? How satisfied are we with doing another’s will? Clearly our need for seeming to control our lives and our environment show how much we need to exert our own will. And are we ready to be the creators of artificial life? Is this a responsibility we are capable of taking on in a responsible manner? Science fiction writer Karel Čapek asked the same question in his 1921 science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). This work that introduced the world to the word Robot, also made us question the future of our new creations and in his work, they rebel against men and want to think for themselves, and to be their own masters. In the play, they rage against their makers a tale we have seen before in the Old Testament and beyond.
Are we ready for this awesome and terrible responsibility?
Please note that the image above, Icarus and Daedalus by Breugel is, in its full title, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Icarus seems to be an afterthought in the image and it is the hope that the same will not be true of the questions posed here.
In addition to the beautiful writing, I have been taken by the central idea behind Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” asking that we reexamine our relationship to our environment, asking us to create “cultures of regenerative reciprocity” and invoking a relaationship to the earth like the native americans; taking just what we need and no more, remembering that giving is as important as getting and to have respect for where our gifts come. She laments the winner take all mentality we take to the planet, noting that in the long run, we are the losers. The impact and importance on the environment is clear as is the importance of this new paradigm she proposes. The thing that I found interesting was the parallel to the new paradigm that social media has created. It seems that the only reason that social networks survive is our generosity with not only our time but our information, opinions and lives. We must feel the need for gratitude for our efforts for 35% of people check their mobile phones before getting out of bed while 80% of smartphone users check their smartphone before brushing their teeth. Why else would we do this unless it filled a need, a need to have our gift acknowledged and hopefully commented upon, liked and retweeted?
It seems that what Kimmerer is looking for in our relationship to the world is what we are already doing in our relationship to social media. To give first, not expecting anything in return but being thankful and grateful for what we get, to take the gifts of others and share them hopefully respecting the dignity of their words and thoughts. The top down model, where content flows from top down is over, hopefully we can bring this new interactive approach to other relationships in our life and our world. While this new media destroyed the old media hopefully the social media paradigm will bear with it the seeds to save our world.
One of the books that lives on my night stand is Elizabeth Eisenstein’s “The Printing Press as an Agent of Change” . I was flipping through it the other night and I was reminded how early books were made to look like scrolls and the print font to look like handwriting to show the value of this new innovation in information technology. This got me thinking about the computer touch screen interface. Are we using the “book” model to guide our access to information and if we are will be begin to find new ways to communicate with computers and perhaps a new way to relate and relate to information and the world around us. Perhaps one day the humble Google search page will seem as antiquated as the dead sea scrolls or an old map where sea monsters roam the landscape of our ignorance.
Listening to NPR the other day,I was taken by a story on how there is a movement to make wifi access available everywhere in the national parks. It seems that some people have found that the great outdoors just are not enough of a draw for them and that they feel the need to Skype, check Facebook and possibly download and watch the that episode of “The Bachelor” that they might miss. This makes me think of Marie Antoinette and the Hameau de la Reine a rustic retreat that she had built on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. There she would dress as a peasant and have local farmers help her maintain the perception of being a peasant in the country. It seems that we are creating a similar situation by allowing Wifi into national parks, we have all the trappings of wilderness but with the constant distraction of technology and media. Will we get to a point where a genuine outdoor experience with no wifi is something that we can only have on the grounds of a private estate or range possibly at a cost so that those who have this internet silence can enjoy it with others who can pay for the privilege of being truly in the wilderness?
I just read that retailers were using the weather to target location-based mobile ads to pitch weather related goods and services. We may be connected to our landscape in a whole new manner our surroundings were made up of physical things where our landscape may now be made up of information. Not so much where we are but how fast we can get to something.