Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Bane and Blessing of Technological Innovation

The news on MPR this morning was of a new academic program at USC called "Interactive Entertainment"--a glorified way of saying that one can now earn a B. A. in computer gaming. "Oh, no," I thought, "this will surely bring out the screed against higher education." But the interviews with students and profressors were quite revealing. One student spoke of how he had built in a Foucaultian exercise that posits a world in which moral choice must be made in a less than black-and-white universe.

But then I remembered the release earlier in the year of a game which is based on the "Left Behind" series in which violence takes place in the name of religion. I must confess that I know next to nothing about computer gaming. Though many of my students spend countless hours with them, I'm a bit scared to begin learning lest I find myself caught up in the loss of what little valuable time I have. In fact, I understand that there is a relatively large segment of the population that finds such entertainment addictive and can wind up spending ten or twenty hours a week "gaming," losing all track of time.

My propensity, when it comes to technology, is to understand that there is both a positive and negative side to any new invention. My biggest concern is that it creates an artifical environment and cuts us off more and more from one another and from the world around us. One of the worst examples of this is watching students "IM'ing" one another while they sit literally feet from the recipient of their messages. On the other hand, stuck here in the middle of nowhere Minnesota, this blog, e-mail, and the internet have helped me to remain in contact with my own community back home.

This is partly why I find myself so immersed in Sixteenth Century studies--a period of time when there was radical dislocation and an enormous change of paradigms in the culture. The advent of printing and the splintering of the Christian faith forced individuals, families, and cultures to adapt in new and different ways. Much was lost but, with the advent of modernity, much was gained, as well. Perhaps, by looking to the past, we can find some ways of navigating all of this technological change. In the meantime, I'll remain thankful for all of those religious texts from the 1560's which I've managed to collect and read . . . stored safely away (where else) on my computer.