The Call Collective

Exploring God's presence and call within the culture.

Tag: Technology

Convenience at the Cost of Our God-Given Choice

Imagine you’re cruising up some famous American street—Hollywood Boulevard, Michigan Avenue, Lombard Street. Although you’re in your car, and no one else is accompanying you, you’re not driving. You’re the single passenger, tucked comfortably in a reclined seat of a driverless car. You look out the angular window and spot a ‘57 Ford Thunderbird, or a passel of men dressed handsomely with bowler hats, bulky coats draped over their arms. Or, maybe, up ahead you see a horse-drawn carriage bounding across an intersection.

Such oneiric instances might not be too far off, at least according to the musings of The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance, in an article, “How to Turn Your Self-Driving Car Into a Time Machine.” The article invites us with a facetious wink to consider the entertaining and exhilarating possibilities afforded to us with a future of driverless cars. Since these automated vehicles would require a robust and extremely sophisticated system for mapping data—from the proximity, speed, and size of nearby objects to precise location and destination coordinates—they could, at least in theory, use such information for the good of entertainment and education: by “combining augmented reality with super-precise location data and real archival video and audio footage (plus a mix of actor reenactments and CGI),” we could recreate the past. In other words, we could drive along a modern street, flip a switch next to the cup holder, and view that same street as it was in the 1950s, or 40s, or 20s.

This would no doubt offer a perk for driverless cars. However, on the other and less whimsical hand, the article suggests that such technology could make for “ethereal billboards that appear only to individual car passengers . . . essentially location-specific, ultra-targeted pop-up ads.” Still, while trips redolent of a Disneyland attraction during a work commute may seem a bit far fetched, the digital, location-based billboards? Not so much. Continue reading

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To Be Born (Yet) Again

There is something about the purchasing of a new product that is exciting, and this desire for an experience of “newness” extends well beyond the latest iPhone to all sorts of purchased items and experiences. In fact, compared to purchased items like phones and cars, experiences — vacationing in Oahu, camping at Yellowstone, parasailing off the coast of Miami — may promise a greater and more enjoyable level of “newness.”

A 2014 article from The Atlantic, “Buy Experiences, Not Things,” points to recent studies revealing that “experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions.” The reason for this, the article explains, is because there is an emotional benefit that accrues in the anticipation of an experience that doesn’t for material goods. Experiences also provide a lasting benefit after they occur, since their memory can now elicit positive feelings of nostalgia. Although experiences seem to edge out material things in offering a more meaningful and lasting level of happiness, experience shows we all still fall back into a state of restless pursuit of something new. Continue reading

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Algorithms That Rob Us of Our Dignity

Has the gift of broadened technology begun to narrow us?

It sounds almost apocalyptic, but as I read an article in The Atlantic titled “What Tinder and Halo Have in Common,” I began reflecting on the dark sides of the modern convenience of being spoon-fed our shopping, news and entertainment choices.

The article explores the surprising similarities between the complex algorithms used by Halo to match a video game player with an online opponent and those used by Tinder to pair a person with a potential date.

The author of the article, Michelle Ehrhardt, voices a distinct wariness to a mechanism used to match individuals based on culled data. But while she questions the overall effectiveness of such a process, the article is suggestive of a potentially larger issue.

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Why We So Desperately Need Community

I frequent a certain coffee shop during the week. Just about every time I’m there, I see two older men sitting in adjacent faded red chairs. They both usually have headphones on and are engrossed in a show or movie playing on their laptops. They sit quietly for the most part, laughing in short, distracting bursts occasionally (though never at the same time). I can’t be sure, but since I see them whenever I visit this coffee shop, I suspect they are there every day. Sometimes they talk to each other, suggesting a worthwhile new movie release or repeating a joke from a recently watched TV episode. They appear to be friends, or at least companions. It also seems that they both live alone (although, to be fair, I can’t say for sure). Everyday they come to sit in a room with quiet, indifferent strangers to watch movies by themselves, together. They participate in a paradoxical sharing of their aloneness.

There is something appealing about a life of “aloneness,” not to be—at least on the surface—confused with loneliness. For in our aloneness we can corroborate our capacity as self-directing agents. We affirm our liberation and ability to live a life geared toward our own, self-fancied end. We can come and go when we please, busying ourselves in whatever activities or hobbies that suit us without having to answer to anyone but ourselves. And to be fair, it’s a satisfying modality of life in some aspects. However, like the two men who make a familiar home of a public coffee shop, there seems an underlying need to be grafted onto something other than our own selves. In a culture that places so much stock in autonomy, we’re caught in the tension of enjoying unmitigated freedom while still identifying as part of a larger whole.

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Is Busyness Jeopardizing Our Souls?

Today it seems everyone’s favorite response to the common, probing introductory question, “How are you?” is this: I’m busy. Very busy. Extremely busy. I’m guilty of this response more than I care to admit. Of course, many of us are—actually—extremely busy. Many of us are stretching ourselves razor thin, fulfilling the necessary obligations of life: tending to our jobs, families, and children, addressing the infinite list of errands and to-do’s, scheduling time for exercise, friends, entertainment, bills, volunteer work. The list goes on. Endlessly.

Technology, despite its aim to lessen our collective human burden (which it no doubt has in some ways), has helped fuel this increasing and widespread condition known as busyness. The ease with which we can connect to the world—be it to our work emails or social media relationships—allows us to be permanently “plugged in.” We can get away from the crowd and commotion of our lives physically to seek rest, but we can still pick up our phones to engage with them just as if we never left.

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The Tightrope of Technology

This post was first published at Fr. Robert Barron’s Word On Fire blog.

One hundred and fifty. That’s how many times a day the average American checks his or her phone (according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’s annual Internet Trends report). I don’t doubt it. In fact, it could have said 250 and I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. I can’t tell you the number of times I check my phone, but I’m embarrassed to say, it’s probably right around the average. I’m no different than old Pavlov’s dog at times, rooting that little contraption out of my pocket at every alert. Just the other day I caught myself driving home from work and reaching for my phone at nearly every stoplight, reviewing my emails, texts, Facebook, etc. When I realized this, I committed to fasting from my phone for the remainder of my trip home. It was surprisingly difficult.

We live in an incredible era. The access we have to information is magical. We can tap into a seemingly infinite repository of information with a device that tucks snugly in our front pocket. We can know exactly what’s going on halfway around the world in the time it takes to say “halfway around the world.” The amount of knowledge and information, thousands of years’ worth of human development, toil, and discovery, is a mere swipe of the thumb away. We’ve been submerged into a stream of abundant knowledge that’s dulled just how miraculous this is. As Pope Francis observed in Evangelii Gaudium:

This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid, and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.

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