Matthew Hutson, English 111, Brown University (1998)

Sven Birkits distrusts the oncoming power of simulated authority, as it has little grounding in what he considers our natural roots.

Woven into this expanding web--pervading our academic institutions and trickling down into the mass media by way of high-brow journalism, film, and now, [William James?] fears, the Internet--is a nihilistic "postmodern culture" with its "vast fabric of competing isms," chief among them a terrorizing "absolute relativism" (228). (source)

Yet how do these "isms" differ from, say, Catholocism? Or spiritualism in general? Baudrillard has much to say about the simulacra of religion in Simulacra and Simulation:

. . . What becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme power that is simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or does it volatize itself in the simulacra that, alone, deploy their power and pomp of fascination -- the visible machinery of icons substituted for the pure and intelligible idea of God? (4)

Although we can integrate symbols and icons into our tangible lives, we remind ourselves that these merely hint at the true, infinite nature of our selected deity/deities. Signs like the cross or the swastika or the schwa spread easily and stick in one's head, yet they hold no substance in and of themselves; they each represent a larger concept that one cannot grasp fully. This sound a lot like the world wide web; the WWW is a world too large to comprehend in its entirety, so we must construct manageable, symbolic interfaces for the effective navigation throughout a sea of information. Steven Johnson goes on in his book, Interface Culture, about the nature of these interfaces:

When I think about the gap between raw information and its numinous life on the screen -- something I try to avoid doing, because it is a dark and difficult thought, more than a little like contemplating the age of the universe -- the whole sensation has a strangely religious feel to it, that sense of the mind trying to reach around a vibrant (and convenient) metaphor to the wider truth that lies beyond. Cathedrals, remember, were "infinity imagined," the heavens brought down to earthly scale. The medieval mind couldn't take in the full infinity of godliness, but it could subjugate itself before the majestic spires of Chartres or Saint-Sulpice. The interface offers a comparable sidelong view onto the infosphere, half unveiling and half disappearing act. It makes information sensible to you by keeping most of it from view -- for the simple reason that "most of it" is far too multitudinous to imagine in a single thought.

Others have also suggested that the digital world is taking us full circle back to a spiritual realm where gods are more real than people. Timothy Leary, in his book Chaos and Cyberculture, describes this succinctly:

A Definition of "Spiritual" Could Be "Digital."

Recite to yourself some of the traditional attributes of the word "spiritual": mythic, magical, ethereal, incorporeal, intangible, nonmaterial, disembodied, ideal, platonic. Is that not a definition of the electronic-digital?

The quantum-electronic universe of information defines the new spiritual state. These "spiritual" realms, over centuries imagined, may, perhaps, now be realized! The more philosophic among us find this philosophically intoxicating.

Granting digital technology the power of deity also allows attribution of evil. Some fear that within our emerging cyberculture lurks The Devil.

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