Ok this post is not really about evolution, what it is about is the idea of de-evolution. The idea that our culture is de-evolving. That our language is being reduced to slogans, soundbites, and twitters. But lets return to the start.
Marshall Mcluhan is probably the most famous media theorist to ever live, he helped us understand the way that emerging technologies and media were changing how we think and behave. McLuhan was a commited Catholic and unbeknownest to many, his theories were underpinned by a strong Christian worldview.
McLuhan believed that when the Ancient Greeks first began to use a phonetic alphabet and write down language, it enriched their culture because it allowed them to look at the written page and to reflect and think. McLuhan believed that this development freed them from difficulties experienced by tribal cultures of being trapped in the moment and enslaved by emotions. This new found reflective intellegence allowed the Greeks to create and shape the classical world.
Another media theorist Douglas Rushkoff who is influenced by McLuhan, makes a similar reflection about the literacy of Jewish culture. One of the things that was unique about the Jewish people was the high level of literacy that was expected of ordinary people, whereas the local pagan religions required their adherants to worship at the feet of idols, the people of God were commanded to “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8)
Thus reading ones bible was not just seen as religious chore to be endured; rather the discipline of studying scripture was an amazing innovation.
An innovation which taught the people of God how to study, reflect, critique, argue and learn. All key elements that ensure not just a spiritual rich culture but also an intelligent, just and reflective society. This foundation of literacy and reflective intelligence ensured the growth and development of the best fruits of Western Culture. When western culture went awry it was this reflective foundation which called it to account.
However McLuhan noted that the arrival of the electronic age deeply changed the landscape.
The emerging world of technology and media meant now that images took precedence over the written word, feelings won out over facts, entertainment beat learning and stimulation obliterated reflection. McLuhan noted that in many ways we had taken a step backwards, we reverted to a pre-literate state of being, in which we were again enslaved by feelings and trapped in a perpetual search of entertainment and momentary pleasure. As the media theorist Neil Postman noted we had begun to Amuse ourselves to death.
Devo – We are De-Evolving
The new wave art rock band Devo took this idea and made it a corner stone of their music. Their name Devo referred to the fact that they saw our culture as one which was de-evolving. That we were reverting to a society of immature, unreflective consumers. And so their music was filled with satrical jabs at a de-evolving culture. See video below
How Media Changes Faith
McLuhan being a Christian noted that these changes had a tremendous effect on the way that Western people saw their faith. He noted that the new media landscape changed how we understood our selves and our world. For the capacity to reflect is a key element of faith and spirituality. To stop and think and look up at the stars and ask how did this all happen, to ask the big existential questions. However in our post-literate culture today we have precious space or time to reflect, to ponder, to question and to muse.
Emerging technologies demand more and more time of us. They change our use of language. Text messaging, twitter, micro-blogging, and facebook statuses create a world in which language and dialogue is reduced at cut up into a billion inane statements. We have all become politicians, sprouting out meaningless and mundane ‘soundbites’.
Fred is eating Pizza”
“Julie, hit her head on the coffee table LOL!!!!!”
“Ernesto is bored with his new Iguana”
Sure everyone seems to be talking, but this is not conversation. This is language robbed of its potency, this is speech devoid of its soul. This is a million people performing one man shows in a million empty theaters. No one is really listening, because everyone is too busy making sure that their soundbite is heard.
I am not asking you to stop twittering, to leave blank your facebook status, or to throw you mac in the harbour.
What I am saying is that if you really want to change the world, to short circuit the system, to partner with God as his kingdom breaks out. Blank out half an hour in your diary and go sit an ponder by the river. Tonight at dusk, put off your dinner and go and watch Venus appear on the horizon and feel cosmically small. Ring up a friend for coffee and chat, debate and really talk about the big issues of life. Grab your bible, turn off your phone and go and wrestle with the word alone, let it read you. It’s probably the most counter-cultural thing you can do.