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Simulation

by on Nov.07, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

This week at work, Craig and I were talking about authenticity, and how so much of what companies rely on is the feel of authenticity, rather than genuinely being authentic. How much do consumers realise it, and how much do they care? They rely on simulation – much of human endeavour does. The French philosopher Jean Baudrillard explored this in his later life – in particular in Simulation & Simulacra. Incidentally, it’s the book Neo takes the minidisk out of in The Matrix in the scene before he notices the girl with the white rabbit tattoo – the concepts for that film are so based on S&S, I’m glad they payed homage!

Baudrillard describes three levels, or orders, of simulation. The first he describes as ‘natural, naturalistic simulacra: based on image, imitation and counterfeiting’ – a very healthy process of seeing what exists, and copying it for artistic effect or enhancement. Taking a photograph of something produces a likeness of that thing, but it doesn’t claim to be anything more than a photograph. No matter how much you want it to be case, you’ll never have Jeri Ryan on your bedroom wall, but you can have a damn fine poster that makes the room infinitely geekier. Just me then?

The second he describes in terms of the simulation obscuring the real, as a way in which the real can be hidden. The example he gives is the efforts that industrial operations go to in order to hide the level of exploitation inherent in production from the workers, and how a nations that relies on heavy industry might typically try to keep the workers’ dreams modest in order to avoid discontent. If workers could see how much they were being exploited, they would rebel – so the simulation is used to hide the reality, and although they can see that it’s a simulation, they cannot see what’s real to compare.

The third order, the hyper-reality, he describes as concerning ‘simulation simulacra: based on information, the model, cybernetic play’. The simulation replaces the real such that the real is no longer the source of the simulation but rather the product, or the replacement. What can be perceived is the simulation that claims to be reality – the shallow image of what exists has been detached from what exists to be a shallow image, which in and of itself, is all that can be seen. This is distinctly unhealthy, and is the greatest threat to authenticity in contemporary society as it is difficult to distinguish the simulation from the real, and often the simulation offers what appears to be all the benefits of the real without the inherent complexities.

What’s worrying is times when I see hints of third-order simulacra in everyday life – friendship defined by Facebook, relationships defined by the outward appearance rather than what’s beneath. My generation seem to be fairly adept at telling the difference – we see simulations for what they are, for the most part. The generations coming up behind us – well, that’s what another blog post is for :)

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Thesis

by on Nov.07, 2010, under Digital Eucharist?

For anyone who’s interested, my MA thesis can be downloaded here: Digital Eucharist. Plan is to blog my way through the research I did for it in a slightly more accessible format than a 15k word PDF :)

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Trial by a jury of incompetents…

by on Aug.12, 2009, under Uncategorized

It occurred to me recently that most people have no idea what my job is. ‘Technical Support’ is a term that most people understand but, by nature, most people don’t really know what I do. After all, it’s technical stuff that I’ve spent a lifetime learning about and three years (and £15 grand!) on learning to a professional level. This isn’t generally a problem – I couldn’t teach a classroom full of 5-year-olds, and my mother couldn’t analyse security risks in PHP code. Each to their own.

The problem that comes to mind is that of what would happen if I were to be accused of a crime committed online. I’d come before a jury of my peers in a court of law – a system that in principle I believe to be generally effective at dispensing justice (but that’s a whole different question). If I were accused of murder, the jury would know what the crime consisted of – they could imagine me committing it, perhaps understand my motivation, and when provided with evidence that although technical in nature, could be presented in an understandable way.

But what if i were accused of circumventing the access control systems to confidential information held on government computers of several different nations by the use of ghosting proxies, the construction of a botnet and orchestrated dDOS attacks? That’s several different crimes in several different jurisdictions – the extradition proceedings alone would cause a political incident! What about if I were accused of being an accessory to the distribution of child pornography because I had failed to properly patch a server and an attack against the server had succeeded?

When I came to trial, the jury would have very little idea of how I went about my supposed crime – stabbing someone is somewhat universally recognised, writing viruses is a rather less glamorous past-time. In the latter case, I wouldn’t actually have done anything and still managed to commit a crime that would disgust any jury – how is any jury not fully versed in server management supposed to make a call on that?

Equally, what’s the alternative? Trial by a jury of IT experts? There’s vested interest there if I ever saw it – I don’t know what the answer is, but the prospects scare me.

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Church & Technology

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Uncategorized

I’m currently looking for a job (if anyone needs a techie with an MA, within range of Manchester, get in touch!). It’s caused me to take a good look at what I’m good at, what I want to do, what I think God wants me to do, and where God appears to be working. Not much then!

Looking around the Christian jobs scene, a lot of places seem to want youth workers. I’m not a youth worker. A lot seem to want lay workers, a now-deprecated term that encompasses a whole range of ministries but mostly seem to involve families, vulnerable people, Fresh Expressions, that kind of thing. I think I could do that, I think I’d enjoy it and be good at it, but I don’t feel called to it. Doing this MA at Cliff has taught me loads about where the future of the church lies, and has changed the way I approach church forever, but it’s also taught me that being a techie is a good thing and that actually, it’s where my heart has always been. After my BSc I was disillusioned with IT (thank you Manchester School of Computer Science), but being at Cliff has brought my worlds together. I’m a rare breed of Christian techie – I’m a qualified one! I find myself frustrated at the way churches abuse technology – they either ignore it or elevate it to the position of second saviour, rather than embracing it cautiously as they should.

We live in a world shaped by technology, and that’s both a fantastic thing and a terrible thing. The same technology that brings people together across huge distances lends itself to shallow relationships and approximations of community. The way in which we understand our place in the world is changing – where we’re going isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that any upheaval like this can be hard to adapt to. The projector at the front of the church isn’t going to bring the kids flooding in – likewise the church ignores Facebook at its peril.

I live in a world of God and technology – I know both, and I love both. That’s where my future lies. That’s what God’s set me up for. That’s where I’m going. I’ve come to realise that it doesn’t matter if I pay my way working in IT or in the church – I can do God’s work in either, and I’m happy to go with the flow (of the Holy Spirit, I hasten to add!). Exactly where God’s taking me, only He knows – but I guess I’ve just got to trust him. I want to work with churches, to show them how they can use technology to serve the world, to disciple their flocks, to reach out to others and to serve God more faithfully. For now I do that in my spare time, in the future I’d like to see it be a job but maybe that’s not where I’m best placed. Maybe those who need me most can’t pay for me, and those who would pay wouldn’t understand. All in God’s hands. All in God’s hands.

I also realised that I’m terrifically good at nothing in particular. I’ve looked at a few jobs and I tick all the boxes except the specialism of that particular job. I work well in any position in a team, I’ve got great IT skills, I can organise stuff, I can work with external partners, all that kind of stuff….but not in any particular context. Meh, I’ll get there!

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Just Fair Laughs

by on Apr.10, 2009, under Uncategorized

My first night back in Kendal for Easter and I went down to Bamber Bridge with a friend and a few of his family to a Methodist-run regular comedy night called Just Fair Laughs. It was a great evening – my first beer in a long time, good company, a fantastic laugh and plenty to discuss.

We didn’t get a chance to thrash it out properly, but we did start a discussion that relates to my dissertation work – I’ll post something about it over on my dissertation blog soon. The question was – is Just Fair Laughs church? There were no hymns or a sermon and there was beer so obviously it wasn’t going to be anything like traditional church, so there was hope for it. People were meeting and interacting so there was community happening all around us – and a church is a community that’s part of God’s wider community. I argued that church needed to be intentional – it needed to set out to be church, with everything that means – teaching, worship, fellowship, everything, rather than set out to be a comedy night. My friend argued that intentionality in that sense meant institutionalisation, and that church was wherever two or three gathered together. Of course, he’s right – but so am I.

The difference comes down to semantics, mostly – but that’s not a bad thing and it’s helped to clear things up in my mind. To state the obvious, ‘church’ isn’t where you go or what you do for an hour on Sunday, it’s all gathering with others in the name of Christ (Matt 18:20). So from that point of view, yes, Just Fair Laughs is church. But also, church is more than just two or three gathering – it’s two or three supporting each other, encouraging each other, fellowshipping, teaching, serving each other. And by that definition, Just Fair Laughs neither tries to be nor is church. I came to the conclusion that JFL is part of church, and is a ministry. On its own, it’s not enough to disciple people, but it’s a way in which the church serves, befriends and becomes part of the community. And that’s worth every penny.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. I’m told that the organiser, who is a Methodist minister, had journeyed with loads of people through tough times who he’d never have met if it wasn’t for JFL and that people appreciate a clean comedy night. Looking around I saw groups getting to know each other and I felt that if I’d been there on my own, I’d have left with a couple of new friends. Maybe no-one’s come to faith through it, maybe no-one will. But when the church is seen as the overbearing morality police, it’s good to know that it’s working where it’s meant to be – at a grassroots level, making people laugh, bringing joy to people’s lives and being there with them when they need it. As the world’s becoming more and more about me and I, it’s up to the church to show that it’s about us. And have a laugh while we’re at it!

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Scooters…

by on Apr.04, 2009, under Uncategorized

After a woman was found five miles away from her home after drifting off at the controls of a mobility scooter, going so fast that her husband couldn’t run after her (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cornwall/7981904.stm), I have to ask…why do we put old people in control of such fast bits of kit? I completely accept that they are important for personal mobility and they’re great for that, but is there really any need for them to go up to 15mph, and why aren’t there safety cut-outs like there are on any potentially lethal things I get to control (cars excepted…)? Something as simple as a bite switch would have got her to church on time, saved the country hours of police time and avoided her husband distress (that with his triple bypass probably shortened his life a few months…)

Meh. Young people aren’t the menace to today’s society!

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BT

by on Apr.02, 2009, under Uncategorized

I’m still trying to work out if I like BT. They messed up our first new install by reactivating a line so decrepit that they couldn’t run DSL over it so I phoned up and after half an hour of negotiating they agreed to re-install it for me. Then I tried to add broadband to the order and they told me that I’d have to wait until it was installed, despite the first sales rep I talked to assuring me that I could have the whole lot installed in one go if I wanted it. Strange people.

Either way, when this line gets installed and set up we’ll be able to do some serious network debugging. Either the old router was lying to us about our 6 meg line speed or we’ve got gremlins. Either’s equally possible!

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Yoga

by on Mar.20, 2009, under Uncategorized

So, there’s a large group here at Cliff for a Yoga retreat weekend, involving lots of contortion and non-Christian spiritual endeavour (plus the sale of Buddhist and Hindu CDs and bong-like contraptions….) and it’s caused some great debates over the dinner table!

One side feel that having groups coming to Cliff to engage in non-Christian spiritual activity is wrong – that Cliff is a holy place (holy = set aside for God), and that the only worship that occurs here should be Christian. We make regular exceptions for Jewish groups, we might do the same for Muslim groups as our religions are related, but Hinduism and Buddhist spirituality is a long way removed from that of the Abrahamic faiths. This side of the argument feel that Cliff should have turned the group away, politely explaining that what they would be doing here didn’t fit with our views on spirituality and that they should find another venue. They feel that the very holy and Christian spiritual space that is Cliff has been invaded – not that they can’t worship God anywhere or that God needs special places to work, but that there should be places that are set aside for God and worship of him in a Christian way.

It’s worth noting that this group take yoga seriously – it’s not just a form of exercise but it is a spiritual endeavour for them.

The other side of the debate take a variety of views – from knowing that Cliff needs the money and that a chance to take money from the hands of heretics and put it to God’s purposes is one that can’t be missed to arguing that Cliff should welcome everyone with open arms and show them Christian hospitality and the Christian lifestyle so that they can see the Gospel lived out properly.

Ultimately it’s a question of God’s mission – faced with a decision to make, how can Cliff best follow God’s purposes for this world? Jesus had no problem with kicking the dishonest money-lenders out of the temple because it’s God’s house but even at his last supper he dined with someone who he knew was going to betray him. As Christians we have a duty to protect the holy things from contamination but at the same time ask ourselves how we can tell people who aren’t Christians the good news of Christ.

So what do I think? Welcome them with open arms, let them use whatever they want to, pray for them, pray over the areas after they’ve left to get rid of any spiritual nasties but crucially talk to them and interact with them and show them God’s love. I’d rather we had a neutral space that we could just rent out without it necessarily being a spiritual issue – having them yoga where we worship brings it a bit to close for comfort….

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Bad dream

by on Feb.09, 2009, under Uncategorized

I had a bad dream, so God had me up and getting a drink of water (the nice stuff from the tea point, not the tanked stuff in my room). He had me look out of the window at the snow-covered peaks illuminated by gentle moonlight – forget the beauty of fake goth models or the OS X interface….God’s creation (and right now, this corner of it) is the most beautiful thing on the planet.

I remember the most tangible thing that I noticed after becoming a Christian, apart from a feeling of God’s peace, was that suddenly I saw the natural world as not just beautiful, but God beautiful. I saw it in a completely different way and that hasn’t changed – I see the connections, I see the energy, I see God’s hand in it – and if God looked at it and said that it was good (Genesis 1), it must be something special.

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!AUDACIOUS CITY CHURCH

by on Feb.08, 2009, under Uncategorized

Yes, there’s a reason the title’s all in capitals! Cat and I went there this morning…it was an experience to say the least. Both of us left feeling really stressed, myself rather disturbed, and both partially deafened…yet at the same time I couldn’t help but see God doing cool stuff.

We must have shaken about five hands on our way to our seats, but I’m afraid to say the welcome ended there – barely anyone around us talked to us and all the regulars were up the front. Can’t blame the church for that though, I’m sure I’ve cold-shouldered a few people at Reach over the years. The service started with a rather cool video and about 30 minutes of very high-energy sung worship incorporating equally high-energy prayers into a very professional outfit – with plenty of space down the front for a mass of jumping bodies. A very long church notices followed, and the rather cool !A-TV – a five minute video with the latest news. There’s certainly plenty going on at that church – the booklet about it was several pages long and includes loads of interest groups, hang-out-in-coffee-shops groups, small groups, training, prayer sessions, youth stuff, a church plant the other side of Europe and all kinds of cool things.

The sermon was, well, an experience. This guy shouted at us with great passion and zeal for about 45 minutes about how we are made in the image of God and we should start acting like God’s respresentation here on earth. Great content, good exegesis, and even I only found a few minor things to pick him up on theologically, and they were certainly open to interpretation. He just shouted. Continually. We closed with a song and quickly made our exit….the traffic noise of central Manchester suddenly was as silence to our ears!

It was very, very slick – too much so IMO. It was far too programmed for my liking – certainly we should give God the best we can but I’m not convinced that slick programming is his idea of the best. The people there obviously love God and the church obviously sustains them so it’s doing great work – and it’s odd, I love loud gigs but maybe I’m just getting old and found this morning’s experience too much loud and too much going on to feel I could ever be at home. Plus, above anything else, it just didn’t feel right. Not like ‘Satan is in control’ not right but ‘This isn’t where I’m meant to be’ right. That settled it – I guess reach will always be a kind of home to me. Doesn’t help Cat though – her search continues!

(Techie note – if you ever feel the need to put every single aspect of your work through a compressor, resist. They’re great for a lot of things but having spent two hours listening to finely compressed loudness I found myself crying out for some dynamics! And yes, that’s why the title’s in CAPITALS – it really was church out loud!)

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