How to Thrive in a Post-Truth, Alternative Facts, Fake News World

How to Thrive in a Post-Truth, Alternative Facts, Fake News World

The long-gestating epistemological crisis in the west is escalating rapidly. Who or what can be trusted? Is objectivity possible? Are there authorities uncorrupted by power? Sources of truth untainted by the stains of bias and ideology?

From Tet to Trump: A Media History

From Tet to Trump: A Media History

I believe in journalism. I'm thankful for its truth-telling, spot-lighting potential (see last year's Oscar-winning film Spotlightfor example). But I sometimes fear for its future. As the media landscape continues to morph, what role can real journalism play? Donald Trump becoming president is certainly huge "news," but it's a headline that signals something foreboding rather than electrifying about the state of the news industry. Here's my attempt to make sense of how we got here. 1960s:

Dismaland, Ashley Madison and Duplicitous Fantasy

Dismaland, Ashley Madison and Duplicitous Fantasy

A friend of mine recently told me that his wife was often depressed by "looking at Instagram and seeing how happy every couple seemed." The endless array of beautifully posed people, gleefully posting about their #blessed, #best and #NBD adventures on beaches and balconies, discouraged her. Compared with the carefree, happy-as-can-be photos [...]

The Roman Road and The Tree of Life

The Roman Road and The Tree of Life

Yes, our individual stories matter, but mostly because they are subplots and microcosms of the BIG story God is telling. Each of our lives can be a reflection of the redemptive story God authors on a massive scale. Each is a compelling chapter in the epic of creation.A movie that I think illustrates this well is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.

To Everything a Season

I'm in a season of change right now myself, for a number of reasons. I'm finished writing my new book (1 year and 65,000 words later!); I'm enjoying the last few months of my 20s and what is likely my last season of life as a single man; I'm experiencing new friendships and walking with some old friends as they experience their own seasons of change.And I'm also going to be changing my blogging habits a bit.

24 Social Media Dos and Don'ts

24 Social Media Dos and Don'ts

As part of the Biola Digital Ministry Conference, I gave a seminar entitled "Becoming Social Media Savvy Without Losing Your Soul," in which I discussed the etiquette of social media and some of the potentials and pitfalls in how we can use it as Christians. What does it mean to represent Christ in the social media space? To get at this question, my presentation included 12 "dos" of social media and 12 "don't." Here they are below, starting with the "don'ts."

In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

In Praise of Being Out of the Loop

I'm troubled by the value we place on quickness in our culture. The rush to "join the conversation" doesn't necessarily help the conversation. Frequently it hurts it. Sometimes our quickness perpetuates the spread of misinformation. When the urge is to comment first, research later, the conversation becomes scattershot and unreliable.

Notes on the Legacy of Steve Jobs

It may be too soon for a "legacy" commentary on Steve Jobs. But part of Job's legacy is that he helped popularize the "having a mobile device that can do everything, from anywhere at anytime" quickness of contemporary communication. His devices helped facilitate the cultural shift toward on-the-go, real-time media consumption. Because of him (and others), we can now hear about news, process it with others and, yes, even write a blog post about it as quickly as we want to. That I'm writing this on my Apple MacBook Pro is not meta irony as much as it is an unavoidable reminder of this man's prodigious legacy and his brand's revolutionary reach. How many of you who are reading this now on an Apple product?

6 Things Bringing Christians Together

Though Christianity looks at times to be more fractured than ever these days, with all sorts of big and small things causing great discord in the church, this is only half the story. There are also a good number of things bringing Christians together in the positive direction of unity. Below are 6 things that I see as potential unifiers in the current trajectory of the church.

Reflections on the Real in 2010 Cinema

But almost everything in our digitized, cut-and-paste world these days has a tenuous relationship to reality. Perhaps that’s why these dubiously “true” films are nevertheless enjoyed and embraced, particularly by younger audiences. The idea of black and white, “true or untrue” doesn’t make much sense to a generation who has grown up with a steady stream of mediated half-truths, advertising, made-for-TV reflections on the news, The Real World, etc. It goes without saying that something can be enjoyable, moving, resonant, but completely fabricated. Even if it touts itself, with a wink, as “real."

My Predictions for 2020

In Relevant magazine this month, there is a fascinating 14 page article ("Bringing 2020 Into Focus") in which experts weigh in on what to expect in the coming decade, in areas like the environment, social justice, politics, culture, faith and science. As the "expert" in the cultural arena, I was commissioned to forecast the trends and changes I think will be most significant in the next 10 years. To read the whole spread, click here. But below I've excerpted a few sentences from the 4 trends I highlight.

I Joined Facebook... Sigh.

September 19 was a dark day for me... but one that I feared would come soon enough.

I joined Facebook.

This is after years and years of publicly campaigning against it in articles such as this and this... oh and this one as recently as January where I talked about "the irrevocable damage Facebook and its various counterparts have done to meaningful communication."

And now I am a part of the monster, feeding it like everyone else...

Laughable, I know. It will take a while for me to recover from this swift idealistic collapse. Now I know what Obama must feel like after talking so much about not running a negative campaign and then being forced to do it anyway.

Not that I was forced to do it, but believe me when I say that I had to join Facebook. Any professional journalist really cannot function without it these days, and my job at Biola magazine (especially some articles I'm writing now) necessitated some serious usage of Facebook.

I sickens me when technology wins, when I can no longer survive without it. This is like the cell phone: so many people held out and refused to get them five years ago, but now we'd all die without them. These are moments when Neil Postman's Technopoly seems more prescient than ever.

I joined Facebook with the hope that I could "hide" and only use it secretly for work purposes. Ha. That lasted about 30 minutes earlier today, quickly devolving into just another Facebook startup: "friends," friend-requests, profile-making, etc. I've really fallen fast, giving myself over to my sworn enemy with crude ease and jolting swiftness. At this rate of ideological turnaround I will be Facebook's biggest champion by this time next week. Heaven forbid.

Iron Man

Iron Man is the best super-hero movie I’ve seen in a long time, perhaps since Batman Begins. It’s fun, thrilling, witty, romantic, even a little provocative. It’s all you could really want from a summer blockbuster (and how nice it is that we’ve entered the “summer blockbuster” season!)

Robert Downey Jr. is absolutely perfect in the role of Tony Stark—a billionaire/superhero with a characteristic spotty past and a “save the world” complex (essentially a more ironic, more cyborgy Bruce Wayne). Jeff Bridges is also superb as the nemesis Obadiah—a big-business weapons manufacturer selling tech secrets to Afghan terrorists. Terrence Howard and Gwyneth Paltrow (so nice to see you again, Mrs. Martin!) deliver terrific supporting performances as well. The cast is appropriately high caliber, because this is a very high caliber film.

Perhaps the best thing about Iron Man is its show-stopping sequences of special effects. It’s almost passé to applaud special effects in blockbuster films anymore, but it is certainly appropriate here. The Jetsons-esque robots and gadgets and inventive weaponry displayed in the film make Transformers look cartoonish by comparison.

But beyond the superb visual rendering of the film’s stylish techiness, the thing that most fascinated me about Iron Man was the way that it subtly (perhaps unintentionally) commented on the contemporary relationship betweens humans and technology.

On one hand the film has a nostalgic, ultra-modernist flair that hearkens back to Cold War sci-fi films: technology as tool and ultimate embodiment of human science and progress (or else the sign of man’s self-induced apocalypse). But Iron Man is not a film from the 50s. It is fully aware of its 21st-century context and the attendant shifts in the way we relate to and speak of technology. No longer is it just a tool to help us improve efficiency, fight wars, get to the moon, etc… No, it is much more personal than that. Technology today is a crucial extension of who we are. Some of the most striking scenes in the film involve Stark bantering with his team of robot “friends” in his workshop. They have personalities, senses of humor, and “get” Stark much more than most humans do. Indeed, Stark’s do-everything digital assistant, Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), seems to know the superhero better than just about anyone. It’s a metaphor for our own hyper-mediated lives: we relate to the world and understand ourselves chiefly via technology.

Iron Man, as the title implies, is about the fusion of man and machine. It’s the ultimate cyborg fantasy—though it’s not so much a fantasy as it is a reflection of how we (increasingly) define our identity.

I agree with film theorist Vivian Sobchack, who in “The Postmorbid Condition” suggests that our society increasingly has a technologized view of the body and flesh. Our bodies, she argues, are becoming simply well oiled machines that we must perfect and equip for utilitarian purposes. We’ve become obsessed with “maintenance” and “repair,” as seen in the current obsessions with working out and cosmetic surgery. We spend hours in gyms and health clubs, we pop pills and vitamins, consume protein bars and energy drinks, and we take drugs and medicines that can pretty much make our body do anything we want it to. Some of us take steroids and performance-enhancing drugs to push our bodies even further beyond their natural capabilities.

Iron Man is just the latest (and most literal) super-human action film to reflect the technologized view of the body. Of course we can also look back to RoboCop, The Terminator, and any number of other sci-fi films to see this as well. The “cyborg film” is an interesting genre, and it’s not all that difficult to understand why it’s appealing. Our culture fetishizes technology, and has for a long time; what would be better than to literally fuse oneself with the technology we so idealize?