An exploration of how technology has co-opted the metaphors of religion, with uncanny and discomfiting results.
Essayist O’Gieblyn is a former Bible school student who lost her faith, but living in the real world is no escape from spiritual discourse, especially when it comes to the internet. Much of this intellectually wide-ranging, occasionally knotty book turns on the ways we reflexively apply religious imagery to online life, “constantly, obsessively enchanting the world with life it does not possess.” The author begins her considerations concretely, discussing her relationship with an Aibo, a robotic dog loaded with convincingly doggy idiosyncrasies; bonding with the machine, she wonders if humans are built “to see life everywhere we look.” And if that’s irrational, what’s the rational approach? To a surprising degree, she finds, scientists can’t escape a kind of modified God-talk despite their learnedness and rigor. They speak of “emergence” of group consciousness online, ponder the mystical unknowability of matter in quantum physics, or propose that we might all be living in a computer simulation, a theory O’Gieblyn reads as old creationist wine in new bottles. The author is a whip-smart stylist who’s up to the task of writing about this material journalistically and personally; her considerations encompass string theory, Calvinism, “transhuman” futurists like Ray Kurzweil, and The Brothers Karamazov, which features “a moral drama that for me has lost none of its essential power.” Though sometimes overly digressive, toward the end the author sharpens her concern that “enchanting” the internet risks our being blind to how it exploits us: “We are indeed the virus, the ghost in the machine, the bug slowing down a system that would function better, in practically every sense, without us." The machines aren’t alive, but that doesn’t mean they’re not taking over.
A melancholy, well-researched tour of faith and tech and the dissatisfactions of both.