Binge Watching Is Changing Us: Recognizing the Power of Imagination

It may not be one of the great novels of all time, but one of my favorite reading experiences was Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. Genre wise, it is a historical-fiction whodunit set in a medieval monastery.  The story and action are great (which the film version attests to), but it also has an intellectual depth that only a professional semiotician like Eco could bring to the table.  As the novel unfolds, Eco probes the deeply symbolic side of our lives, exploring how the categories we think with structure our actions and passions. (Think of the short ancient language and culture sections in Snow Crash, but this time marinating the whole thing, not just peppering here and there.)

Monastery Davidovica

Monastery Davidovica (© Vhorvat)

For Eco, the swirling liturgical and religious imaginations of monks in medieval Europe shaped—for good or for ill—the way that monks understood the world.  Indeed, that imagination, populated by angels, devils, and biblical figures, is almost a character of its own

Looking back, I probably liked The Name of the Rose so much because I read it as I travelled in Europe for the first time. I picked up the novel as I waited for a train in London at the start of a long solo trek to Florence.  I had spent months poking around churches, castles, and museums in England during classes, so my head was full of the images Eco drew upon.  I was in the perfect place—both literally and figuratively—to enjoy the work.


@Pontifex: Spirituality, Twitter and the Complexity of Diverse Audiences

Today marks the entry of the Vatican into the Twitter-verse as the Pope starts tweeting at @Pontifex. As of this morning, he has three quarters of a million followers. As a Roman Catholic who is used to reading papal writing, the tweets have been as expected: short bits of wisdom meant to encourage and support believers in their daily life. In this, he is in line with a great deal of Christian use of new media. From the early days of listservs to Web 2.0, churches have been using even simple things like email prayer requests and daily Bible verses to help support one another in the small things.

Of course, I’m writing this from the perspective of a Catholic. While I recognize the many problems that the Catholic church has created and continued (insert caveats about the fallen nature of all people, the tendencies of all institutions to have problems, and the lack of uniqueness of the RCC in this respect), I’m on board with the its basic beliefs and commitments. I have great respect for the Pope both in his role and as a stellar scholar.

A Tale of Two Audiences

I guess that’s why Andrew Brown’s opening line in this morning’s blog at the Guardian caught my eye:

It was not surprising that when Pope Benedict XVI finally turned up on Twitter to greet his million followers there he should have nothing to say.

Nothing to say? I guess I didn’t find:

pope's tweet

all that vacuous. I thought it was nice. Generic, but nice. But it got me thinking.


It Only Gets Better When We Redefine “Better”

Intriguing reflection by Matt Buchanan at BuzzFeed (It Never Gets Better) about how strongly we buy into the promise of technology:

There’s an update waiting for you. For your apps, for your computer and phone and tablet and the box attached to your TV. Updates are so routine that when you buy a smartphone or a tablet, you don’t just hope it will be better tomorrow than it is today, doing new and wonderful things that it doesn’t already do — you expect it. That’s the magic of software.

Yet, for the most part, it never gets there. Buchanan’s advice is to buy things that work well now, not those that only offer the promise of working well, once the next update comes out, etc. Great advice.

It seems to me that we place a lot of faith in technology as a means to achieving what we hope for. Social media will put us in touch, easing our loneliness. Biotech will heal our bodies, extending our lives. Manufacturing and design will make our lives easier, improving the quality of our lives. We have so much faith in our tech to live up to our hopes, we will cut it some slack when it fails to live up to our expectations. And it pretty much always does. So, when will we start to accept the fact that tech doesn’t solve every problem? When will we learn to manage both our faith and hope?

Electronic Bibles for the Analog Wayfarer

From Oliver Smith at The Telegraph,

From today, all 148 rooms at the Hotel Indigo [in Newcastle, England] will contain a Kindle e-reader pre-loaded with a copy of the Bible. The hotel is claiming to be the first in Britain to offer such a service.

Guests are also permitted to download a copy of any other religious text – to the value of £5 or less – during their stay. Regular fiction books can also be purchased, with the costs added to guests’ bills.

Meet the people where they’re at, no matter where they’re at.

Criminals Are Always One Step Ahead of Security: Tax-spoofing

Most thinking about security of online financial transactions focuses on security of the connection to the financial institution and the institution’s ability to police its systems from unauthorized access. But spoofing—gaining access to a site by masquerading as an authorized user—financial institutions doesn’t necessarily entail getting into your preexisting data.

Lizette Alvarez at the NYTimes had an usettiling piece this weekend (With Personal Data in Hand, Thieves File Early and Often) about a new and frighteningly creative strategy being used by identity thieves.


The Good Kind of Silence of the Lambs

In the Roman Catholic World, today is World Communications Day today, the day set aside by the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council for Catholics to reflect on the role of communications in the world. That was a novel idea in the 1960’s when they started it. But we probably spend some part of every day thinking about the way in communicating, if only to wonder why our cell phone isn’t connecting right.

Each year, the Pope releases a brief address that highlights a particular area of concern, such as the portrayal of women, the rise in pornography, or the role of the media in respect, truth, and communion. This morning, the Catholic Moral Theology blog published a piece I wrote on this year’s address, which focuses on silence. Silence, Pope Benedict suggests, is a necessary precondition for the success of the many necessary communication events we engage in.

It is an interesting suggestion, and worth reflecting on. But it’s something that in our talkative world is a bit like coffee: off-putting and bitter the first time you try it, but a revelation once you get past the first few sips.

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