Creatures of the future

Posted Jul 15, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Kathryn Reklis


A few weeks ago, a friend posted a link on Facebook to a social media/online tutorial site, Grovo, which was profiling a 1982 New York Times article. The article—the headline of which reads, “Study Says Technology Could Transform Society”—summarizes a then recent report just released from the National Science Foundation that predicted the impact electronic information technology would have on American home, business, manufacturing, school, family and political life by the turn of the twenty-first century.

There is something very Back to The Future about reading this report summary (though that film didn’t come out for three more years), especially since one of the key predictions is the increased prevalence of “teletext” and “videotex” in American homes. According to these predictions 29 years ago, Americans would soon have “videotex” terminals throughout their homes, allowing them to manage all aspects of life—work, social relationships, financial transactions—from their homes. I read this article on my iPhone on vacation in my parent’s house in a room where three of the other five adults were logged onto laptops.

There is obviously something amusing about realizing we are living someone else’s futuristic predictions so accurately. There is also something startling about it because in so many ways our world is not a futuristic utopia. The many dangers forewarned in the 1982 study—encroachments on privacy, ubiquity of advertising, collapse of the divisions between home and work time—are very real parts of our reality as well. Technology has not alleviated world hunger or brought an end to war. In fact, as Lerone Martin blogged about last week, borrowing from Malcolm Gladwell, certain kinds of strong relationships and deep commitments—say the kind that might lead to political revolution—don’t seem to be fostered by Facebook and Twitter.

On this blog site, we’ve all been trying to capture, discuss, and detail incidents of how new media is remaking our lives and world and to evaluate what this might mean theologically for us and for the life of the church. For my next couple of blog posts, I want to start thinking about the theology of this future we are living. That is, I want to start thinking about what we can say theologically about the human subjects we are becoming in the face of transformative social media. I’m not sure this theology can be written now, certainly not comprehensively, since the changes are still upon us. And we continue to change, hardly even aware of it, in response to the future that approaches us, which further complicates this work. But theology is never meant to be a finished project, so I hope we can think together about this in a wiki-theology way.

I’m a Roman Catholic with a progressive bent, so my own starting place will be theological anthropology—what can we say about our creatureliness and our relatedness to the divine and all creation if we start taking seriously our context in this new media world? We know we relate differently. We know we process information differently. We know we find ways to belong differently. Does this change what we say about who we are theologically? I’d love to hear your first responses—theological musings, comments, questions, deep (or superficial) probes. I’ll be back next month with my own (first, blog-style, rough draft, ad hoc) theological reflections on who we are, these creatures of the future.

Kathryn Reklis, a research fellow for the New Media Project, is the Executive Director of the Institute for Art, Religion, and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary, where she also serves as the outgoing Director of Theological Initiatives.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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