Theological ‘Lock In’ | I Am Not A Gadget | Bad Faith [2]


[ Lock In [1] ]

In the previous post I raised the idea of technological developments giving rise to ‘lock in.’ Gadgets do not evolve in the organic sense ‘free’ that we might imagine: because of protocols and standardisation (think USB / railway gauges / HTML / Lego) their evolution is guided along particular lines. Other iterations are simply not open to them.

As we have co-evolved with our tools, Jaron Lanier’s thesis in You Are Not A Gadget is that we have experienced a kind of creative ‘lock in’ too: we have begun to see ourselves as gadgets that are restricted to certain forms of expression because our creative tools are themselves locked in.

Sartre explored a similar idea in his work on ‘bad faith.’ Using the pictures of a waiter who acts far too much like a waiter, and a girl who refuses to see that a guy putting his hand on hers is relationally relevant, Sartre outlines two dangers: we either collapse the paradox of our existence into pure facticity, or deny any facticity and consider our lives purely transcendent. As I write in the forthcoming book:

Humans are different from objects in that our consciousness is ‘non self-identifying.’ A table is a table because it fulfils all the properties that we attribute tables as having. But even if we made an infinite list of all the properties of a person, we would never succeed in fully describing their personality. In other words, we aren’t simply human because we do human-like things.

This is why Sartre says the waiter is living in ‘bad faith’ : he is feeling an obligation to display the attributes of a waiter, even though there is nothing that should force him to do so. However, he is also equally critical of the girl because, even though she refuses to be described by the facts of her actions, her transcendent position – positing her hand as something outside of her self – is also a denial of the true situation.

Sartre thus sets up this paradox: we are what we are, but precisely part of our being is that we are not simply what we are.

How does this connect to Lanier’s thesis? As I’ve said, I’ve not yet read the book, and am looking forward to doing so. But picking up from what he’s said in interview, ‘not being a gadget’ is about not being locked into the self-identification that expression-through-tool-use binds us to.

However, what will be interesting to see is if Lanier does conceed that in some ways we are gadgets: there is an element of ‘lock in’ to our humanity, and there is an element of facticity to our person. And it’s to this paradox of being freely locked in that I think sheds light on our theological practice too, which I’ll look at in the next post.


2 responses to “Theological ‘Lock In’ | I Am Not A Gadget | Bad Faith [2]”

  1. Religion is so much guided by gross tools. But we are not religious gadgets. If anything, theology must break down the linear and familiar and binary. Good post. Good to see Jaron mentioned here. He got married not long ago. Check out their wedding cake:

  2. In a recent post on Douglas Rushkoff’s blog – he thanks a WiFi telephone service for providing us with a simple test that will help us resolve any concerns that we might actually be computors. (Rushkoff is the author of Cyberia, Media Virus, and Coercion).