Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitter, Tralfamadoria and The Church 2060 Part II


Valencia feels herself coming down, emotionally, from the worship experience. The tears are still flowing, running down behind her cheeks, across the bottom of her ears and down the back of her neck. Only then does she realize that, in the non-virtual world, she is still lying in bed and gravity still exists.

Immediately, while she is still relishing in the moment, a screen comes up with a new menu. Tender music is still being played in the background as she is given the opportunity to increase her tithe-subscription. With just a millimeter of movement of the aim of her pupils, she can increase the automatic monthly deductions from her bank from $300 Euros (the U.S. currency in 2060) to $400.

She chooses not to raise her monthly tithe-subscription, the program then leads her to a different window. There the external markets of the church are explored, including their work in helping the starving Christians from the Korean War II. There’s a very moving video of the CEO-Pastor passing out bags of rice and SCL (satellite connected laptops) to the children in the devastated areas around Seoul, after the nuclear exchange. When the video is complete, she is given another opportunity to increase her external market tithe-subscription. Valencia decides not to increase her deductions for that cause either.

The last worship window opens. In it she is asked to rate her worship experience as feedback to the worship team. After rating the experience, she then sets her next “worship level.” This morning’s level was a five. Valencia knows that by the law of diminishing returns that she will soon have to set her worship experience level to a six, or she won’t have the emotional experience that she had today.

The “worship team” is made of the CEO/pastor plus four other talented co-pastors. A team of programmers and artists with expertise in CGR (computer-generated reality) make up the rest of the team. They can afford such talent because their live (those who donate) market is about 130,000 people world-wide. They do have a brick and mortar church in Riverside, CA with a real present audience of about 1000. But to experience the worship program the way it was intended, even those in the building wear the headsets.

Valencia is taken to a final menu where she can choose from an assortment of Christian entertainment or venture into the FH (Fellowship Hall). She chooses the FH, as this is virtually (pun intended) her only contact with other Christians.

Valencia had gone to Kinko’s the year before and had a 3 D image made of herself. The Duplicator® is a round, vertical tube that you step into. A laser copies your entire body in EHD in about ten seconds and sends it directly to your SF via wireless Internet. Valencia could then manipulate her image in any way she wanted. It is common practice to take twenty pounds off your body’s frame and twenty years off your age. Some change much more. Others download entire images (not even bothering with getting a 3 D scan) that are computer generated but totally indistinguishable from real people . . . but bearing no resemblance to their appearance in the material world.

Valencia did the standard weight and age changes. Then she subscribed to Warp-robe®, an online wardrobe service. Automatically her image is digitally dressed in the latest styles as arranged by some of the best clothes designers in the world. The Warp-robe® company guarantees that if you are ever in the same room with someone else wearing the same outfit, you will get a 20,000 Euro reward. It other words they guarantee that the computer program will dress each person uniquely.

As Valencia enters the room, she is surrounded by about 200 other people, many with coffee or juice in their hands. Valencia smells the coffee strongly and looks down to see the china cup in her own hand. She walks up to the first people, a man and a woman in lively conversation. She smiles. As soon as a break in the conversation comes, she reaches her hand and introduces herself.

But Valencia suffers from significant social phobia. She utilizes a Christian fellowship program. It says and does the most socially appropriate thing in the Christian social context. She has the option of either reading from a teleprompter, which drops down as a “heads-up display,” or she can go fully automatic. This morning, because she feels more fearful than usual, she switched the fellowship program to automatic. The voce that is spoken by the computer is identical to Valencia’s own voice. It says the most appropriate thing in every situation . . . the thing that a woman of God would truly say. Valencia’s only choices, unless she takes it out of automatic mode, are which people to talk to and for how long.

In the room is a whole spectrum of people. Some are old, some young, Asian, African-American and Latino. Most are connected to some material truth . . . some vaguely so.

Maeve, is 28 and has her wonderful Christian husband, Raven, at her side. Together they are present in the FH every Sunday morning. They have two darling children, a boy and a girl—both preschoolers. Today, they will join many other Bryce Franchise customers (the new name of church members) and do a virtual Pro-life march on the Capital in Washington.

In their material worlds, Maeve and Raven are not married but live together and have no children. They did have one on the way. However, Raven found a great deal on airfares to Europe in September. They were too good to pass up so they aborted their baby at the fourth month. There is no way that Maeve wanted to travel when she was pregnant. (My point in this story is not about Maeve and Raven’s choice but the fact that their real lives are so incongruous from their church lives).

A few people have even more mischievous reasons for hanging out in the FH. Darst, with a virtual appearance of a 26 year old, single, computer programmer and avid surfer from Laguna Beach, CA . . .is really a married 54 year old man named Braden. He is paper pusher with the NHID (national health insurance department). He comes to the Bryce Franchise FH every Sunday for one reason . . . to develop a relationship with young (think Drew Peterson here) single women. Little does Braden know that the young attractive gal he has cornered this morning . . . well, she is really Garish, a 40 year old closet gay man with a wife and three kids in Kansas City.

Kaetean is a 65 year old widow, who comes as 30 year old business woman, hoping to hook up, virtually, with a nice Christian man.

Probably the most troublesome disguise is the kind grandma, Catlin, in the corner. She’s having a conversation with, Jerrod, one of the ministry team members. She, as a grandmother of eight, feels that God is calling her to be involved in a children’s ministry. In her material world Catlin is 42 year old Roger, twice convicted of acts of pedophilia.


Commentary: Do I think that the church will really look like this in 2060? No, I don’t. I tell this story just to illustrate the path that the church is on right now. I am a true optimist at heart and lean in the Post-Millennium direction. I really think that all things in society, and within the Church are destine to get better, not worse. I’m not dogmatic on my eschatological views . . . it is just a hunch. Mike

8 comments:

pennyyak said...

50 years ago would have been 1960. A world both very different, and in some ways very much the same.

50 years from now? Who knows? Interesting speculation, though. The breakup of extended families, esp. in certain cultures (mine certainly been one of them), our alienation from our next-door neighbors, the love of cyber-space. Isolation. Fantasy. Constant bombardment with bad news and tragedy (if we want to watch certain channels). So many other things.

I don't know how this will all come out in near history. I do know that I won't live to see it.

Good things happening too, of course. I'll keep trying to stay on the side of the angels, although I'm sometimes uncertain about where those boundaries are drawn.

Anna A said...

Very, very good. Very, very scary, in the same way that the classic SF short story, "The Machine Stops."

Thank you

MJ said...

Yeah, pennyyak, in 50 years things may not be so different . . . but then again?

MJ said...

I've never read "The Machine Stops." Think my life has been sheltered.

Anonymous said...

Very, very good. Very, very scary, in the same way that the classic SF short story, "The Machine Stops." -- Anna A

Not sure "The Machine Stops" is that good an analogy. That classic was more about universal telepresence than Virtual World Immersion. And at the end, the Machine that has them all utterly dependent in its telepresence womb breaks down, leaving its perpetual fetuses to fend for themselves.

JMJ, this could be turned into a good fiction piece instead of an essay by adding a narrative climax similar to "The Machine Stops", where Valencia gets a Real Big Reality Check.

Other than that, here's my impressions:

1) Worship even more consumerized than now.

2) Valencia could then manipulate her image in any way she wanted. It is common practice to take twenty pounds off your body’s frame and twenty years off your age. Some change much more. -- JMJ

First reaction: "As in BOOBS?"

Second reaction: Everybody uses a human avatar? Not a single Kani Bunny? Or Luskwood Anubis? Or even an Elf? Furries are Second Life's biggest customer bloc.

But then it might be a Christian thing. In 2060, Furries (and their avatars) might be what D&D and Harry Potter were to previous generations -- the Corrupting Other for the Moral Panic.

And I'm surprised there are no griefers -- VR players who sabotage and/or attack others purely for the lulz (what my generation called "just for kicks"). Like a virus script that teleports the targeted avatar into a virtual gang rape situation that they cannot escape from (I'm not making that up). Or griefer gangs (yes, they exist -- Google "Patriotic Niggas" sometime; yes, that's the name of an actual griefer gang) making virtual terrorist attacks on gatherings from Second Life to WoW, destroying or virusing everybody's avie -- "PWNED J00! ROFLMAO! ROFLMAO! ROFLMAO!"



Headless Unicorn Guy

Anonymous said...

Part 2 of the above:

3) This morning, because she feels more fearful than usual, she switched the fellowship program to automatic. The voce that is spoken by the computer is identical to Valencia’s own voice. It says the most appropriate thing in every situation . . . the thing that a woman of God would truly say. Valencia’s only choices, unless she takes it out of automatic mode, are which people to talk to and for how long. -- JMJ

Completely canned Christianese interaction scripts. No need to be there in your avie whatsoever. Reminds me a lot of certain Christian Fellowships (TM). (Hmmmm... if nobody was logged on and all the avies were Fellowshipping (TM) on automatic, could you tell the difference?)

I can see the appeal; remember the internal thoughtcrime censor you developed in the Navs, when one "not Christian enough" word could get you turned into a pile of rocks? This way, nobody (except the non-Virtual Christ) has any reason to doubt your Salvation. Very Safe.

(My point in this story is not about Maeve and Raven’s choice but the fact that their real lives are so incongruous from their church lives).

(Other examples follow, to the end of the posting.)
-- JMJ

Virtual avatars. In a Virtual Church. Practicing Virtual Christianity. (Maybe even Fellowshipping (TM) on automatic, as noted above.)

Great way to live up above the 100th floor. Completely fleeing reality into the Perfect Christianese Virtual Reality, whether 1950s Ozzie & Harriet or 1850s Little House on the Prairie/Bonnet Romance Land. No need to ever interact with anybody IRL.

And Virtual Avatars have no need to eat, pee, or poop. (When have you ever seen a bathroom or toilet in a Second Life building?) Just like Angels -- or Gnostic Pneumatics.

4) Add an actual narrative flow to turn this essay example into a story (Valencia's story), and you might have a chance for pro publication; there's always some small-press anthology looking for submissions over at the Lost Genre Guild.

Headless Unicorn Guy

MJ said...

HUG, if this concept was ever turned into anything more than just a blog rambling it would have to come from someone more equipped to do so, like you.

Yeah, I think the Avatar will have to be human in 50 years to keep the illusion alive maybe in 100 years they will be ready for the Khristian Kani

Do Evangelicals get boob jobs?? Okay, this leads to my next post.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think the Avatar will have to be human in 50 years to keep the illusion alive maybe in 100 years they will be ready for the Khristian Kani... -- MJ

Well, it would fit the pattern of day-late, dollar-short knockoffs of a trend instead of starting the trend. "Just like a Kani Bunny, except CHRISTIAN (TM)!"

Do Evangelicals get boob jobs?? -- MJ

Well, one review of Left Behind: The Movie asked the question Do Fake Boobs Go to Heaven?