Tuesday, February 9, 2010

iPhone Brain

One day I forgot to close the cap on my water bottle as I put it into my purse. Within moments everything was drenched to the core, including, oh horror of horrors, my iPhone. Quickly realizing I had achieved the pink line of warranty-voiding doom, I scoured the internet searching for a way to bring my phone back from the white screen of death. After submerging my phone in rice for two tense days, hoping that this miracle cure would work, I wrestled with the idea of going without a smart phone. Giving up that smart phone, even though I had only had it a mere six months, would have felt like giving up an arm.

In his excellent and accessible explanation of Marshal McLuhan, Callid Keefe-Perry states “technology is the extension of the human senses.” For example, a radio can extend the sense of human hearing, because it lets us hear things from a different moment or farther distance than our present time and place. The sense that the internet extends is memory. Like language and writing before it, electronic information access is expanding my universe beyond my own experience and lets me encounter the experience of the other. The iPhone, for all intents and purposes had become my memory. Yes, this memory is slower and more unorganized than my own brain, but it is much more precise and can extend beyond my own first-hand knowledge of the world. I am now part of a collective of minds all contributing thoughts, facts, impressions that I can access with this phone at any moment. As Angelina points out, my iPhone brain found me a way home even though I was on roads that I had never been before because of its GPS and mapping instructions let me tap into that collective knowledge of place. Giving up the iPhone, giving up the smart phone technology, would be like giving up a large chunk of my memory.

And yet, I turn off my phone whenever I enter a time of meeting or worship. This has become an important part of the entering into worship ritual for me – get a bulletin, give out hugs, sit with my pewmates, take a deep breath, and turn off the cell phone. Although I still feel that heart-palpitation of vulnerability from letting it go, I realize that this centers me more than all the other rituals combined. I am cutting off that memory, that extra-sensory technology, when I enter a time and place to connect with the Holy. While I know many who have added smart phone technology to their worshiping experience and tweet along to sermons, read Bible verses, or use it as a stand-in candle, I know in myself that the reason I turn it off is because I disengage from that instantaneous precision and connection to all humanity for just a moment. Perhaps, this is a new equivalent of closing eyes and bowing heads for prayers; that this is my way of shutting out the rest of the world and allowing myself to reach for that one on one encounter with God. Technology is extending the human senses, and sometimes, to be in the moment, I feel that deep need to give it up.

For more about McLuhan's description of technology or to get a better handle on what this whole Theology after Google class is talking about, here is Callid Keefe-Perry's video:

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