“The tragedy of modern man is not that he [or she] knows less and less about the meaning of his own life, but that it bothers him less and less.” -Vaclav Havel
“In the beginning was the Word, but in the end, it appears will be the image.” John Seel
Once upon a time, Leslie and I were on a mission team. We were trained by missionaries to think about why people do what they do, what they hope to get out of it, and whether or not they feel it is working.
We were taught to approach culture asking questions like “What way of looking at the world makes someone create/do/hope for something like this?
And that all starts with asking the first question. What kind of world are we in? What is the nature of ultimate reality?
And to answer that for the world that I live in, I think we have to turn to YouTube. Obviously.
Do You Believe in Magic?
Now the way most philosophy works is that it just works. It’s not something we talk about, when a philosophy is working well it’s like our health…we only pay attention to it when something starts going wrong.
For some reason we humans try to protect ourselves from asking questions about “life’s deeper meaning.”
Maybe it’s because we think we wouldn’t like the answers we’d get back.
But when it’s not working, we start to poke around with questions like “Why do we do this?” “How did we get this way?” and of course “Why do we put all those cat videos on the internet?”
And that’s why I’d like to start a short blog series on the Gospel of YouTube, because there is a reason that over 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! There’s a reason that around 20% of the world’s population regularly visit this website. But what is it?
And the answer sounds a bit like magic.
Now Magic isn’t what you see at shows in Vegas or at a little kid’s birthday party, Magic for thousands of years was the way that you controlled the world around you.
And sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But eventually we stopped using it…or at least we thought we did.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this well in The Abolition of Man when he says:
“I have described as a ‘magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power…The fact [is] that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed [so] You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better…There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.”
Did you catch that last part? Instead of trying to conform our soul to reality we are now able to conform reality to our wishes, and to do that we will do almost anything…Which at least explains this part of YouTube.
Lewis is right about us. We live in a world of technology that is so advanced we’ve actually been allowed to control the reality around us. We no longer have to suffer the ways our ancestors did. We don’t get hot or cold or hungry or lonely without an immediate solution to our problem. Reality is no longer dependent on our surroundings or our community because reality now has a thermostat and a button.
And this creates a reality that says if you peel away the layers of the Cosmos, at the center of the universe you will find… yourself.
And so we better make ourselves as presentable or provocative as possible.
“The Shiny Surface Of Our Own Devising”
Now to be clear, I like technology and YouTube and Social Media, and I’m going to write more on the good ways that it’s influenced us. But the reason I am wanting to write on this is because I believe in thinking like a missionary. And there’s not many things on the planet that have influenced the way more people think than the way we use our internet and the way we let the internet use us.
If you have ever cared about baseball, chances are you know about Joe DiMaggio. He was labeled the greatest living baseball player of the 20th century. Everywhere he went people applauded him, he was praised by the sport reporters as if he were a god. On top of his extraordinary talent, Joe also married Marilyn Monroe. He was living the dream.
And then he died, and it turned out that it was a dream.
When they released a biography of Joe’s life, everyone was suddenly shocked that Joe wasn’t who they thought he was. The author said that Joe lived “a flat life.” Because he was so committed to “show nothing but the shiny surface of his own devising.”
Joe as it turns out, was famous, well-loved, wealthy and absolutely miserable.
In their book “Reading Scripture Through Western Eyes” two seminary professors talk about their years as missionaries in SouthEast Asia. In their first few years on the mission field, they could never get any alone time. They kept trying to communicate to their village that they needed some privacy, but the culture that they were in didn’t even have a word for private. When they asked their language teachers what the closest word was for “Private” they told them:
That’s the problem with the reality we believe in, we are at the center of the universe and we are incredibly lonely.
Turns out you can be alone with millions of people.
Just ask Joe DiMagio…or get on YouTube.