For the Final Symposium of the MA, I had some technical difficulties in the export that meant I couldn’t attend in person. Consequently, the discussion of my work was upsettingly limited in the 5 minutes after the video.
I’d like to give some insight into the questions asked, and if anybody is further interested to discuss, please do get in touch!
Overwhelmingly there was the simple question of “Why Religion?” and “How does it link to your practice.”
The research i’ve undergone has looked into the prospects of the internet as a 3 dimensional environment. Compared to the physical world, we can manipulate and altar the physics and constructs of this man-made space. Religion has been a significant building block for social structure and control for centuries. The internet as we know it, is a global network only 30 years into its popular history. The ability for an individual to openly engage with daily free-flow information about the world around them lessens the effect of the everyday ‘Unknown’. This is an aspect I believe is a core reason for theistic belief. Fear of the ‘Unknown’.
In the UK, it is now the minority of individuals who would identify themselves as Christians. Within the space of one monarchy, British society has gone from a religious, Christian nation to a multi-cultural, pluralist, secular nation with a foundation of Christian values. The single most influential and evolutionary creation of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, has been the internet. (Subject to argument of course).
When talking about ‘the Internet’, its size and scope detracts from the discussions. ‘The Internet’ has become a blurry definition of what was originally a computer network. Technically, yes, it is still a computer network, though no one can doubt its rapid evolution to something unimaginable. (Its worth mentioning at this point that the telephone was invented in the 1890s…) The culture and philosophy surrounding this computer network is still defining itself, and will continue to do so as long as it finds new ways to be a disruptive and progressive force.
Internet culture – another blurry term that is as un-descriptive as saying “religious culture.” Religion , at least to me, is a structure (or a network) of protocols. Each different religion, whether theistic or non-theistic has its own concepts, normalities and expectations etc. The theistic Abrahamic religions show many similarities in these areas, and others such Buddhism or Hinduism do not! Coming from a non-religious person, it would seem to me that its attraction is community and a way to approach The ‘Unkown.’ Just as internet culture varies itself and develops niche communities interested in something similar, so too does religion.
Whats the Unkown? To me this is the feeling of hope, worry, expectation, dread. Essentially its the emotional response to the future. In a time where there is little information about the world outside your community, religion gives a sense of understanding and fulfilment, and most importantly a sense of protection. This future-gazing becomes less fearful when there is an almighty power watching over. The submissive values the worshipper has been taught in the community ensures that he/she believes that the almighty God’s actions are the best possible outcome, no matter the consequence. Perhaps this is best seen in fundamentalists actions rather than the average religious worshipper. I appreciate that many religious people don’t necessarily believe in everything within their religion, but instead find value, identity and community in its structure.
When I say that the Internet is comparable to Religion, I’m not trying to come across as some nugget with a grandiose philosophical theory. I simply mean that there’s a clear correlation with increasing global transparency, communication and information and the decline of religious worship. Alongside this, the way that we as the users interact with this network is comparable to the addictive and spiritual routine of some religions. How often do you read the news or check your social media on a daily basis? It’s not praying but its a vital part of understanding the community around you.
The idea of the ‘self’ is still a relatively young concept. The internet endorses originality and self-interest. Social Media is the most obvious offender in this area. As McLuhan argues, man will reflect himself in any technology that is created. Perhaps in the next century, historians and theorists will look at the way millennials used the internet as selfish and primitive, with no sense of global community. Its incredible to think that something like The Ice Bucket Challenge managed to raise close to a quarter of a billion dollars for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was such a simple concept and it made a huge difference, whilst being a lot of fun. It bought a global social media community together, and since then there have been a number of trends that have done the same. One of the most interesting and questionable of these examples was the ability to change your profile photo to a French flag after the Bataclan attacks last year. Whilst being an overwhelming and uplifting show of support to those killed in the attacks, the weeks and months after such a show of solidarity from the world, gave a glimpse on the difference in interest. The Western world dominate the Internet in this sense. Which unfortunately means that there is an imbalanced representation for others, which can feed a negative outlook. Turkey has experienced significant attacks in recent months, yet there is a clear difference in online response which can only harm the bonds between these communities.
Anyway, I’m dragging on. I’ve looked at religion for these reasons as well as the effect religious art had on its viewers throughout history. I’m particularly inspired by the early and high Renaissance. The romantic storytelling and dramatic idealism of stained glass windows, cathedral reliefs and paintings continue to be a strong source of inspiration.
Another question that was asked – “What do you mean by the imbalance between the physical and digital?”
This is different for everyone. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking that I’m increasingly reliant on the internet and its services for more and more daily tasks. As more objects and services are linked to the internet, more of our control is given to our devices. A great example would be Hive, letting you control your heating from your phone. Or iZettle, a card machine for small businesses that links to your smartphone or tablet and works with Paypal. Or the Fitbit, that lets you calculate the precise number of steps you take each day as well as keeping a daily log of your heart activity. There are so many examples. Perhaps the imbalance I talk about is just the emergence of the internet of things.
I believe there’s a significant imbalance in friendships online and offline. There are many people who I’d love to see more regularly however have only had recent contact through social media. Many of these people live locally, yet the interaction is digital.
I’m not sure how best to describe this as an imbalance as it’s different for each person. Many people who don’t use internet services on a regular basis may not see this as an issue. However, watching television is a great example. There is an addictive quality.