August 23, 2008
Technology & Leisure Time
One of technology's many promises was that it would increase available leisure time. It has, but it does not feel like it is so, because we choose to spend most of our extra time with technology itself.
Like all peoples, we've chosen our deities, and technology perches higher than time in our pantheon. A jealous and totalitarian God, technology seduces us into its meeting houses, where we congregate to work and play in a strange, shared isolation, for hours and days and longer still.
We invent Gods in part because they console us in our fear of death. When death is suddenly imminent, we make foxhole deals with a God we may have largely ignored most of our lives. In the course of normal days, thoughts of death appear less dramatically, but still unsettle.
In olden days it was enough to be told by preachers and judges and fathers that justice and vengeance were the Lord's (and often theirs, by self-designated proxy). They said there was a reason for everything, that the final accounting will be in Heaven, and if you do as we say, you will be rewarded in the next life.
But we are an inquisitive and acquisitive people, so this paternalism is not sufficient.
We know that time is not our friend. What does an extra two hours of leisure time a day or four more weeks of annual vacation mean when we are dust in 80 or 90 years? But now we are told that immortality may be within reach in our lifetimes.
Fountains of Youth existed long before biotechnology, but our Elixir of Life comes from a source that has proven its power in wonderful and frightening ways. God sent the Flood but we split the atom and we know that our technology can destroy us more completely than the Bible's God ever could. Even a "natural" disaster like an airborne flu becomes a global epidemic only because of transportation technology.
But if technology taketh away, it also giveth. Technology, with disease control, aging reversal and synthetic corporeal reality, can beat time. We are in awe of this and we covet this and so we worship.
The idea that the surfing and work we do online in some way feeds the single maw of a hungry technology deity which returns the favor by granting us prostheses and gene therapy is perhaps a stretch. If you believe in collective energy and unconscious purpose the stretch isn't quite so far. And if you compare our activities with the spiritual give-and-take between pre-industrial mortals and their Gods, the deal-strike seems familiar.
So if you're wondering where all your time goes, why you spend so much time in front of the computer, you can think of it as being in church, with your leisure time as a sacrificial lamb.
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