Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our Reaction to Future Shock

I was on a retreat over the weekend, and I noticed something peculiar, though hardly novel. We were looking at photos on a projected screen - photos of moments that occurred about 3 minutes beforehand. I looked up wistfully and said, "Remember that time we went on a retreat to the North Coast. Good times".

There are some philosophical ideas behind this phenomenon. Something like the fusion of the memory of an experience with the experience itself. The distance between an event and its remembrance, in our technological age, is becoming more and more reduced. And what's more, perhaps the order of importance is being reversed. The event itself is becoming less significant than the means by which the event is remembered - digital images uploaded onto Facebook. Things like Facebook aren't dangerous because they expose our lives to people all across the globe. They're dangerous because they end up living our lives for us, and (or by) remembering for us. Zizek uses the example of canned laughter to explain a similar concept. The laughter track is not there to encourage us to laugh. It is there to laugh for us, so that we can feel better after a hard day without doing anything. Witness what happens when the track is removed, and we are left to our active, subjective experience of the sitcom event.

We remember too quickly because we live life too quickly. This is our reaction to future shock; our defense against "too much change in too short a period of time." We don't have time to remember the event in the future, so we remember it in the present.

To give a further example, Lauren Winner -- who I know almost nothing about and whose books I haven't read -- has written two memoirs about her spiritual journey. It may be unfair to make jabs at this particular 36 year-old who has two memoirs under her belt, but pace Lauren Winner, isn't that the kind of thing footballers do? There is a tendency for "young" people to think we have to get as much done as quickly as possible, because we no longer value the creative contributions of old people, and we no longer possess memories capable of waiting and holding and fitting the narratives of our life into something much grander. We're anxious that we'll die before the world gets to see how amazing we really are! [This is a judgement on myself, not Lauren Winner.]

This may explain some people's problem with the gospels being written 40-60 years after the death of Jesus, rather than seeing this delay as getting closer to the true significance of Jesus life by allowing his story to be told by a future community who could in some sense see Jesus clearer than anyone could in the 30's AD. It is the assumption of many today that we would really know and believe Jesus if he had a twitter account, a Facebook profile, and if the Sermon on the Mount was available for live streaming. But this assumption betrays an epistemology that ultimately destroys the human subject, replacing us with an it that does our knowing for us.

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