I saw a video interviuew with Noam Chomsky where they broached the subject of “The Singularity”, to which Chomsky reacts somewhat dismissively as “science fiction”. Which is true. It IS indeed still in the category of fiction. And Chomsky’s main concern here is that there are more pressing problems we need to solve now than some theoretical time when we MIGHT solve the “problem” as to how the human brain works, specifically in the arena of “thinking”. Chomsky emphasizes how a computer is still useless without software, which is what determines what “problem” is to be worked out, and what constitutes a “solution”. With that, I agree. Chomsky zeroes in on the issue of global climate change, which is indeed something that not only exists but has been creeping up on us for much longer than the earliest warnings about this phenomenon. I agree with Chomsky there are indeed many issues to which we need to respond with radical changes in order to BEGIN to address the damage we are doing to the ecosystem.
Indeed, the ecosystem damage is one of the earliest catastrophic consequences of technology. Although enormous “advantages” have been achieved by many of these technological advances, the question of “at what costs?” is becoming more crucial for us to get our heads and wills around. I say “heads and wills” because becoming aware of a problem is but a first step. The awareness has to lead to a willingness to respond in some material way.
What it will take to respond, also ironically takes us back into my point of interest: that of the technological advances in the area of communication that enable us to communicate more quickly with more people over greater distances. The “consequences” of communication technology seems to have very few “subtractive” qualities. In other words, unlike the environmental impact of technology advances, the area of communication has no such physical issues to degrade the quality of life. What we are after in communication technology is to increase it’s fidelity (both physically — as in video and audio realism — and in features — like adding value to the audio and/or video stream by connecting it to other relevant information that enhances the communicative experience.
One can realistically say that the consequences of electronic communication CAN and often DOES have upon the people around the “electronically communicating entities” at both ends. (For instance, what of the people around us when we are either engaged with them LESS because of the additional electronic presence of the person/entities at the other end of the communication, or not engaged with them AT ALL and giving our full attention to the electronic communication?) There is, as I mentioned in my initial post on this “Social Singularity” issue earlier this week, a very real issue of our attention to those around us, and to give attention to the impact of our “expanded” communication skills and opportunities. Are we really socially and psychologically completely ready for such a relatively sudden social and pyscho-social “jolt” to our long-formed social senses? I doubt very seriously we are, indeed, “TOTALLY” ready. I am proposing attention to this, not retreat.
I have had the privilege in my life to have been a “sociologically trained” individual, beginning with my majoring in Sociology, and adding to that my theological education which naturally became formed around my sociologically tuned sense of anyalysis of my surroundings. Tony Campolo was an immense help and distant mentor in my forming a robust socio-theological view of the world. My further immersion in technology from an early age made it almost inevitable that I would bring that particular fascination with technologies to my socio-theological world. When I returned to Seminary 10 years after my MDiv at Southern Baptist Theologial Seminary (again, there I was very fortunate to have been the beneficiary of the last few years of academic theological freedom before the radical lurch to the Right taken by much of the Southern Baptist world), it was the beginning of the 1990’s and personal computers were becoming a key part even of the church communications world, and so I was again confronted with a new area of convergence with sociology, theology, and technology.
Ever since I have been immersed in the subject of online communication, and its implications for the church, but as a subset under that (or is it OVER that?) , its implications for human interaction and community. There are wonderful efficiencies/transformations to be realized in this, but also some rather profound pyscho-social impacts that we need to intentionally study, as a concern in the area of human psychology such as we do in the area of pastoral counseling, which ostensibly seeks to understand how to be a pastoral resource to helping explore human problems and potentials. The socio-psychology of online communications and the sociology of new communications technology is growing just as “inevitably” as is technology itself.
I am most concerned with what is happening IN THE PROCESS of this seismic change in computer communications we are experiencing. Indeed, WHAT is it we are experiencing here? I sense that a lot of it is good, even GREAT. That is the bulk of which I want to study and use and examine and play and LIVE. But in the process, I want to remain aware of as MUCH as I can of what is GOING on in our midst and within us as individuals and as communities. So, a “Social Singularity” is a computer enhanced version of community. What is community and how do we experience it? What are the impediments to that vision of community, and when and where and how can we get help in getting “there”?
With Social media, or computer enhanced communication whose software seeks multiple “social” connections of data in order to bring disparate groups and interests together, it is a matter of software as to what constitutes “optimum” communication and connectivity. We have a “non-subtractable” good, one that is not diminished for others by the act of drawing upon its goods, and so software has the job of approximating the good and multiplying it by such factors as the increasing nodes on the network. To these things I will return shortly.