doing something that won’t compute

This day 10 yrs ago Facebook was born and that particular milestone( millstone?) has been making me think about my relationship to the labyrinth.

It didn’t take much reflection.
It is not a particularly healthy relationship. I am an addict.
Some people can’t control the amounts of alcohol they drink, the amount of food they eat, the amount of stuff they want to acquire at a cost to other people.
Some people can control the amount they use Facebook while I can’t.

Bearing that in mind it seems like a good day to leave.It’s not meant to be a big drama, yet it is hard to pull the plug.
I suppose because I’ve invested in it.  Having a comment on something I’ve posted might have lifted my spirits when I was feeling low. Reading other things that people have posted have provoked me. There are lots of other things which I have appreciated.

Some of the negatives.
To often my identity over the past (7?) years has been tied up in my relationship to Facebook. It feels like a very close relationship, almost like it is part of me. Yet then things start verging too much into Google Glass territory.  I am not a robot. I am a human being, unpredictable and wild.
I do not want to live in a world where I am recommended books I might like based on what other people who liked similar books liked. I want to go into a second hand bookshop and fumble around before picking something because I liked the cover. I don’t have the same vision of where Mark Zuckerberg and other would like to go in the next decade:-

‘Today, social networks are mostly about sharing moments. In the next decade, they’ll also help you answer questions and solve complex problems.’

No thanks Mark, not for me!
In a way it echoes what Ed Snowden said about the NSA:-

‘I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.’

I don’t want to live in that sort of world either Ed!
And because I don’t want to live in that sort of world I need to learn how to stop doing the recording of myself and feeding them to computers data banks or whatever holds my information.
I don’t want to be processed and rated by computer programmes designed by technicians. We are more than that!

So to steal few lines  from my favourite Wendell Berry poem:-

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.


As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


ImagePerhaps I read The Guardian website too much but all this Edward Snowden whistle blowing stuff troubles me.
So many people live their lives online. So many people conduct their business online. And all that time their information is being secretly monitored and recorded by machines and men we know nothing or anything about. We are being watched by snowdrones.
If you ring some companies they will tell you that the conversation is being recorded ‘for training purposes’. Or if you are  in a public library it may say that images are being recorded on CCTV. Presumably that is to let us know that you are being watched as it is important to know that information as a citizen of a free country.
Yet what Edward Snowden has been revealing is that information and data you thought private isn’t private because the US government can see it in the privacy of your own home. And not a word of warning!

‘If you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about..’

If Stalin had said that it would sound menacing and threatening as Stalin could determine what was right and wrong according to whatever he felt was right or wrong. If he didn’t like you and thought you a threat he would have you shot or shipped off to the Gulag as that was wrong according to Stalin.

Am I supposed to think it less menacing as the NSA or US Government are the ‘good guys’? Do we think the NSA, CIA, MI5, GCHQ  are less corrupt or tempted to misuse power than those in the Stasi or the Chinese authorities?
From a Christian point of view the hearts of all men and women are ill and broken. Do we think that the heart of an American government official or contractor is less corrupt than an Iranian or the baddies or terrorists?
Yet these secret technicians and computers are secretly collecting a flood of information that reveals so much about us as people and that seems to be OK with the US President and most of the government. The amount of information that the NSA could find out about me from my online activities is absolutely frightening. And it wouldn’t take some men with a van breaking into my home and bugging it. Presumably someone like Edward Snowden could tap a few buttons and find out something juicy. Maybe PRISM would be as easy to use as Amazon or Spotify.

‘If you are doing nothing wrong you have nothing to worry about..’

But who is defining ‘wrong’? And what is their definition of ‘wrong’? What will their definition of ‘wrong’ be in the future?

In the future could the government  see what you are doing online to see if an unemployed person is spending a certain amount of time at home online looking at appropriate job websites? Could they take away that persons benefits if they don’t send x hrs per week looking for work?
Or if you just don’t like the government and start kicking up a fuss online could they censor you? Could they see who you have been talking too as well and keep them quiet if they kick up a fuss. Who is going to define who is a threat to a countries security? Some secret people in secret intelligence organizations that we are supposed to trust?

This isn’t science fiction. Perhaps we have been blinded and dazzled into thinking that the internet is a tool of freedom without how we could be enslaved by it by the powerful. If you think you can trust the good guys, look at Google, Apple, Facebook who maybe we can’t trust as much as they say we can.


problems with some of the problems

There is an article in this month’s Reach Out that caused me to go all dissenting Presbyterian,  get the old pen out and underline certain bits in disagreement and wondering if that was all quite true.
It was taken from a book called ‘Will You Be my Facebook Friend?’  by Tim Chester and explores the problem with Facebook from a Christian point of view.

This is what I reckon, which may or may not be true, just throwing it out there.


‘One reason Facebook is popular is because it appears to allow me to create my image using my words. I type in a version of the person I want to be.’

Is this true?
Is this not just me as I am typing?
This isn’t a ‘false’ me typing, it’s really me as I presently am. When someone puts something up on Facebook they are they projecting an image of themselves as they really are or of who they hope to be?


‘On Facebook you do not have a conversation, you have an audience. Your life takes place on a stage and you are your own playwright, creating or recreating yourself through your word’

Maybe you can have more of a ‘conversation’  with someone on Facebook, Twitter or a blog than you can have in a magazine article such as the one I read,  or in your book?  You have more of a captive audience with a book  as people have to sit and take it in with no easy way to engage in conversation with the author. In the old days people used to write letters to famous authors and they might have replied. Now I can do  this sort of thing


‘The genius of Facebook is that all your friends come to you and all their friend come to them. So we all, simultaneously, inhabit our own little worlds, each with me at the centre…’

But is that not just human nature?
I used to be told that ‘sin is a small word with ‘I’ at the centre. Humans have always been selfish have they not? Have we not always believed that the world spins around us?

‘..These people are by definition my ‘chosen people’. In the Bible the ‘chosen people’ are God’s people, graciously chose by Him.  When we come to faith we find ourselves part of a concrete expression of God’ s chosen people in our local church’

I am not really sure about the connection between chosen people and having Facebook friends.
And I’m not really sure about the connection between Facebook friends and church.
Some of the people who are my Facebook friends actually chose me. Is there any difference between sending some you like or a feel a bond with a letter or postcard or sending a friend request over Facebook?


But social media allows us to play God and create our own chosen people. And we are at the centre of this chosen circle’

You don’t need social media to allow you to play God or create your own chosen people or those you would prefer to hang out with,  that is our fallen nature and broken heart. Go to any church and you’ll see that most old elderly people  hang around other elderly people or teenagers around teenagers.


‘One pastor told me ‘The people I know who use Facebook most are those who are most self-obsessed’

I’m not sure how a pastor could measure such a thing. It might appear they are the most self-obsessed but that is only because they are more openly self obsessed and letting it all hang out there. In a way it is more honest as they aren’t hiding or burying their self-obsession. And maybe those people who are self-obsessed are equally insecure or frightened that they aren’t accepted?


‘Notice, too, from who I am seeking approval….Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of me. But instead my concern is what other users of social media think of me.’

Not necessarily true.
Many bloggers see themselves as publishing something for the general public to read but not necessarily enjoy or approve of .
If someone can publish a Christian magazine article or book to challenge faulty thinking (even if that is unpopular) I see no reason why a blogger, someone on Twitter or Facebook couldn’t do the same.


‘People can ‘Like’ something you have written. But there is no option to ‘Dislike’. So to get a response you have to phrase things in positive terms. No one is going to click ‘Like’ to ‘Had a miserable day at work’

There is no option to ‘dislike’ but people can leave a comment such as ‘I’m sorry to hear that, you should go home and put your feet up’. Or they could send a private message if they don’t want others to read.


‘So everyone’s Facebook face wears a smile – whatever the reality behind the mask. We are all spin doctors, presenting upbeat, propaganda, versions of our lives’

But you don’t especially need Facebook to wear masks or present upbeat, propaganda versions of your life. I remember we used to talk a lot about this in Queen’s about people being false and wearing masks, especially with regards to church. That was long before the age of social media.  It a funny sort of way because it’s more out there perhaps it’s easier to challenge?

grim machines

This video of a robot throwing a breeze block frightens me. So does this story about rats brains being linked via the internet which might be the first step towards the worlds first ‘organic computer’. While Google and their glasses hover between sickening me and freaking me out. Sergy Brin says that using the glasses is “a little freaky at first, but you get used to it”. So pay Google for the glasses and help them make money and your body will get used to them. Sure why not? Don’t get me started about the Large Hadron Collider and the excitement that follows it around. Or the news this week that they’re looking for an older married couple for a possible space flight to Mars.

And while all that is happening unmanned drones are roaming countries around the world doing the will of their masters and in secrecy. It is an efficient way of conducting war, an efficient killing machine.

The constant drive for efficiency is killing us, or maybe killing our humanity. It’s making us into robots and dehumanizing us.

technological society

I am wrestling a bit this week with ‘The Technological Society’ by Jacques Ellul, a really dense book which is about as much fun as getting your teeth pulled.

But just like getting your tooth pulled might be good for you (though not fun) this book is saying lots of stuff that is challenging but isn’t a fun read.
It’s challenging because you’re not really sure how to get a handle on what he is saying or how to exactly define it, but you know that there is some reason for that.
It’s a bit like Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. To me listening to it can be like getting your teeth pulled but there is something mysterious or other worldly about it, the way you can’t really get a handle on it makes you think it  has something important to say as  you can’t box it or tick the ‘listened to and liked box’ easily. Some Bob Dylan is like that as well.

So each time Jacque Ellul uses the word ‘technique’, ( which is about 5 times on every page ) and I still haven’t a clue what he is talking about and it frustrates me part of me wants to give up but another  part thinks  ‘Maybe if I read another page it will finally click’.  So here’s hoping. Or else I can just cheat and watch him on YouTube

before I disappear

I’ve been contemplating giving up Facebook for Lent.

That this thought should be so much of a wrestle or even an issue, that I think that I should blog about it says everything you probably need to know about Facebook (and Twitter, blogging). It’s an idol for me, something that has been created by the hands of men that has often taken the place of God.

There are two quotes which I took note of yesterday from The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations that stuck in my mind

‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’

That is one of Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws and maybe explains part of the problem. The www and internet seem magical. They dazzle you and bewilder you and seem so effective compared to a God who can appear silent and distant. Ask Google and an answer appears in milliseconds. Ask God and………

“In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy”
Ivan Illich

Facebook is a consumer product that thrives on us consuming it.
They want me to be addicted to their product, to consume  it in larger quantities.
And all that consuming makes me envious.
I read what others are telling me (even if it’s only partially true), I see their sexy lives and how they can do things I can’t do because they have more money than me, or have more drive, or are more_____.
I become embittered that everyone else seems to be having an easier time of things than me and wish I was more like them.

There is also the truth that we become like what we worship.
How am I becoming more like digital technology?
Vinoth Ramachandra suggests:-

‘…it is not surprising that those who worship technology eventually develop machine like personalities: emotionally under-developed, shallow in their relationships, driven by a desire to control and quantify every situation, unable to appreciate beauty and value in anything outside the artificial’

I can see that from the way my eyes have changed.
The more I’ve been hypnotized by the computer screen over the years the harder it’s been to see beauty outdoors. It’s now more appealing to draw from the computer screen that to do doodle outdoors.  It’s like the natural world is becoming the unnatural world and that really is unnatural.

This mightn’t apply to you of course. Some people might struggle with other addictions or be a slave to something else, technology mightn’t be the thing that is out of place in your life but it’s something that often doesn’t have it’s proper place in my life.