I’m blogging through James Gleick's The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood.
Media historians and media ecologists often point to the telegraph as a threshold technology: the first time that communications technology became un-fused from transportation technology. That is, messages could move faster than a human.
James Gleick tells the story of the telegraph and electric telegraph in Chapter 5 of The Information. What’s fascinating to me is how quickly analyists of the mid-1800s started to draw organic and macro-cohesive analogies for what electricity could do.
The time is close at hand,” declared Scientific American in 1880, “when the scattered members of civilized communites will be as closely united, so far as instant telephonic communication is concerned, as the various members of the body now are by the nervous system.
And Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1851:
Is it a fact—or have I dreamt it—that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time? Rather, the round globe is a vast head, a brain, instinct with intelligence! Or, shall we say, it is itself a thought, nothing but thought, and no longer the substance which we deemed it!
The comments sound incredibly apt to a Facebook world, yes? What’s curious is in the raging modernist world of the mid-19th century, the organic analogies of nerves and brain and body were top of mind. They placing the new inventions in the context of the whole.
For such an inter-connected world, questions like “how does this Brain make decisions?” are real questions. Especially if we turn the corner into US politics, primary elections, health care legislation, and 100% gridlocked Congress. We are concomitantly united and divided. What does it mean that individuals have votes in the Brain? What if we are “no longer the substance we thought we were?”
And after 150 years having the ability to think about it, why do I still hear more voices on individualistic analysis of Facebook instead of communal? Particularly theologians: I still hear laments about how much time people spend on Facebook rather than with their family, or worries about privacy, rather than the massive implications of a Church who lives as a Body in a technology atmosphere that breathes this.1
Come on pastor-theologians. We should be able to do this.
- Okay, to be fair, I think of Dwight Friesen’s Thy Kingdom Connected, but I was disappointed with its weak missional ecclesiology [↩]