Communique No. 5: Avatars, Faith and Doubt, and Jodie Foster

Deutsch: Jodie Foster bei der deutschen Filmpr...

Jodie Foster at a premiere in Germany, 2007. (Photo: Wikipedia)

JODIE COMES OUT. AGAIN.

I don’t watch the Golden Globes. I also don’t watch the Oscars, the SAGs, the Grammys, the VMAs, the CMAs, the Emmys, or, for that matter, any of the other manufactured news events where celebrities from the entertainment industry gather in a big room to gush all over each other on the back for a couple of hours.

Add the fact that so many people do watch them–gobble them up, in fact, as though they’re truly examples of prime television–to the list of things I fundamentally don’t understand. At any rate, I did catch a few of the highlights the next morning, the most notable of which being Jodie Foster’s stirring speech after accepting the Cecille B. DeMille Award.

Some might forget that Foster has been acting since she was three years old and, before the praise she garnered for her role in Silence of the Lambs (which I admittedly have not seen), she was a child star. I’ve also never seen Taxi Driver–another of her famous performances, in which she plays a child prostitute–but I grew up watching both of the live-action Disney movies from the late 70s in which she starred: Candleshoe and the original Freaky Friday. And, of course, no mention of Jodie Foster would be complete without acknowledging the fact that, through no fault of her own, a crazy man nearly succeeded in assassinating our fortieth president in an attempt to “impress” her.

Foster’s speech at the Golden Globes was wonderfully honest and I think a lot of Hollywood actors and actresses could do well to learn from her way of maintaining that most precious of commodities: privacy. I could say more, but I’ll just let Jodie speak for herself:

Very well said. (In case video embed isn’t working, here’s the link.)

THE ESSAY AS AN ENTITY

Some might have noticed I made a fairly big deal about essentially quitting Facebook several weeks ago. It’s not that I don’t like interacting with people or staying in touch with friends from college, it’s just that, over time, I’ve become a little tired of what Facebook can do to people and relationships. In a lot of ways, the site seems to be degenerating into a glorified YouTube comment section, with people either revealing themselves to be true morons or allowing the fact they are communicating through an avatar to embolden them into saying things they’d never say in person. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Just go to any semi-popular video on YouTube and scroll down to the comments section. Welcome to the Twenty-first Century.

Human brain

One wonders whether the human brain can keep pace with technology.

I was giving some thought as to why this might be the case a few days ago when I started thinking about how fast we’ve all had to get used to this idea of a life lived, at least in part, online. What I’m personally interested to know is whether our minds are able to comprehend subconsciously that we’re interacting with other human beings through an mediated interface. The interaction is not at all human in nature, as humans evolved to be a social species constrained by the limitations of time and space and one has to wonder if our biological evolution can ever hope to keep pace with our technology.

This is the first time I’ve articulated it quite this way, but this concept is something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. To be clear, all human communication passes through a medium; if and/or until we’re able to plug into each other’s minds, human communication will always be mediated in some way with an ever-present possibility of ambiguity or some other type of miscommunication. Even in-person, face-to-face dialogue is mediated by the physical space between the speakers and the mechanics of the language being spoken. What has concerned me though is that our proficiency in communicating in-person tends to not naturally translate well into extra-physical channels.

Let’s take, for example, tone. In English at least, tone is communicated differently in person than in written form. In person, tone is conveyed through verbal inflection, nonverbal symbols, and facial expression. As humans have been speaking far longer than we’ve been writing, it’s probable we have greater evolutionary prowess at expressing tone in the former than in the latter. In the act of writing, a person is creating something that will need to be interpreted and the challenge is ensure it’s interpreted accurately according to the communicator’s intent, or as closely to that as possible. Not everyone, as we all know well, can do this effectively.

My other concern is that in communicating online people seem to not feel as great a need to abide by the rules of civil social discourse. I often wonder if, subconsciously, we feel emboldened to say things online that we wouldn’t in person because we don’t truly consider it to be ourselves communicating, rather an avatar that we control. Perhaps we feel greater confidence saying something insensitive, “inelegant,” or downright idiotic because, fundamentally, it’s just a game, with our avatar duking it out with someone else’s avatar. Before writing a blog post, comment, email, text, or some other form of digital communication, I often ask myself, “Would I say this in person?” If I’m not sure, I’ll often hold off until I am because, to me at least, retaining a basic level of authenticity in my writing and online presence is crucial to not encouraging the development of dueling identities. I’m glad to say that, to date, I’ve not said anything online that I’d be afraid to say in person, even if what I said was directed toward specific people. At any rate, I’m interested to know if anyone has any thoughts on this. In the act of writing, are we simply speaking through other means or are we creating something that speaks in its own right in our stead?

AT THE INTERSECTION OF FAITH AND DOUBT

My faith has evolved a lot over time, as I’ve spoken about before. Although I was raised in it, I’ve grown quite exhausted with the right-wing Charismato-Evangelical Christianity peculiar to modern America. Among the multitude of reasons for that is its frequent reliance on simplistic, watered-down articulations of highly nuanced religious issues. For a great many people, the possibility of nuance is a deeper threat than any material weapon for the simple fact that it undermines shallow-minded, black-and-white worldviews. There’s obviously a great deal of comfort to be derived from viewing the world in black and white terms; it makes it easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys and allows for succinct, bite-size pontifications on what is good and bad to name a couple of reasons. Even so, that comfort is only a false comfor as, unlike 1930s era movies, the bad guys and the good guys aren’t always dressed, respectively, in black and white.

Articulating faith is like writing a story, albeit with one major difference: it’s never finished. No draft is ever final and and we keep writing until we no longer have time to do so, until the lifelong cares of the world dim the mind and mortal death claims the earthly vessel. Everything I believe is always in question and I’m constantly trying to talk myself out of the things I hold to be true. As far as I’m concerned, that’s one of the fundamental tenets of intellectual integrity. If your faith relies on never being challenged, then I’d posit it’s not so much “faith” as “blind adherence.”

If we’re to be completely honest with ourselves, faith and doubt are inseparably entwined. Indeed, it is impossible to have true faith without doubt. A doubtless faith is the faith of fools. Doubt is something that needs to be reclaimed by the modern Church, such that we become more comfortable with the mystical nature of the faith we follow and forge a greater comfort with the fact that we will never have all the answers to life’s questions. It might be easier if we could, but we’re fundamentally required to work within the perimeters of what we’ve been given and wishing for the game to have different rules is a fruitless endeavor. Thoughts on this? Feel free to leave them below.

Ephemera

  • I’m less than a month away from leaving for Daegu! While I’m dreading the flight–it’s sixteen hours and I hate flying–I’m beyond excited to work and do life in a new culture. Stay tuned as I begin a new series to document my time spent teaching English abroad titled “Suffer the Children.” (I’m kidding. But seriously.)
  • Tolkien fans, you might find this interesting: a mid-level manager at a state agency in California spent thirty years putting together a constructed language that removes the possibility of ambiguity from human speech. The idea was to pack as much meaning into as few sounds as possible, making it possible to express complex thoughts without laborious circumlocution. You can read The New Yorker‘s article on the language, Ithkuil, here.
  • The White House responded to an online petition for a new stimulus project that would have included constructing an actual Death Star. Unsurprisingly, they poo-pooed the idea. I find their lack of faith disturbing.
  • Joy Behar is following me on Twitter now, guys. I’m obviously a big deal.

5 thoughts on “Communique No. 5: Avatars, Faith and Doubt, and Jodie Foster

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