Do You Like My Body? (And Other Reasons to Think About Your Time on the Net)

Name and Place for Tuesday, December 9 (’14)

Sometimes, it takes a philosopher.

606199In On the Internet (2001), Hubert L. Dreyfus examines the nature of the Web and how it is changing human society.  The best parts of the book deal with the concept of “embodiment” and how the Net takes a significant part of what it means to be a human in community—your body—and renders it pointless.  Specifically, he argues that, whether it is morally right or wrong, the “irresistible alternative culture” (here he quotes Joseph Nye) of the Internet reduces our genuine commitment and, as that reduces, so goes any real sense of risk.  As our lack of commitment and risk decreases, this tends to lead to a meaningless life (3).

Basically, our bodies matter, unless you are part of a growing group of people who believe the Net and Artificial Intelligence offer the next stage of human evolution whereby we transcend and overcome a physical presence of any kind.  (Incidentally, we’ll have a series of posts on these concepts and more beginning in January 2015).  “Embodiment,” Dreyfus argues, is defined so as to “include all aspects of our finitude and vulnerability” (4).  Our “finitude” and “vulnerability.”  Hmm.  Two very powerful concepts that modern American Evangelicals despise, for we simply cannot ever show weakness.  We must be strong.  Happy.  Well-off.  Right?


Here’s a section worth considering:

This sense of being embedded in a world with which we are set to cope is easiest to see if we contrast our experience of the direct presence of other people with telepresence such as teleconferencing (or today, Skype).  Researchers developing devices for providing telepresence hope to achieve a greater and greater sense of actually being in the presence of distant people and events by introducing high-resolution television and surround sound, and by adding touch and smell channels.  (Scientists) assume that the more coupling such multi-channel, real-time, interactive teletechnology gives us, the more we will have a sense of the full presence of distant objects and people (57).

Essentially, roboticists and tech-scientists would love to see a 3D hologram that activates all five human senses.  They want a Star Trek styled technology.

But even such a multi-channel approach may not be sufficient.  Two roboticists at Berkeley, John Canny and Eric Paulos, criticize the attempt to break down human-to-human interaction into a set of context-independent communication channels such as video, audio, haptics, etc.  They point out that two human beings conversing face-to-face depend on a subtle combination of eye movements, head motion, gesture, and posture and so interact in a much richer way than most roboticists realize.  Their studies suggest that a holistic sense of embodied encounters, and that this intercorporeality, as Merleau-Ponty calls it, cannot be captured by adding together 3D images, stereo sound, remote robot control, and so forth (57-58).

Bodies matter, and bodies in proximity matter more.

child-watching-television-silhouetteThink of it this way: what would church be like if it was a telecast-only church, i.e., a disembodied church? Would it inherently deny the incarnation of Jesus—the significance of the Son of God adding humanity to his divinity, taking on flesh in order to bring man back to God from whom he had become hopelessly estranged?

Is Jesus not rendered practically irrelevant the further away from one another we move?  And might it not be important—not just for worship but for all of what it means for us to think about our humanity—that Scripture warns us, firmly:

“..And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:24-25).

Whatever is commanded in this verse, it can’t be done in a disembodied fashion.  So what are we left asking when believers willfully skip church?  There’s a lot that can be asked, but perhaps one question is this:

Do you think our bodies matter to each other—to the doctrine of the incarnation—and to the fact that, one day, we will dwell face-to-face with God and not via a screen with God?



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