A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (3 of 3)

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*Final part of my homework assignment for a CS Lewis seminar. All trolls will find a purgatorial home.  

My dear Wormwood,

Have you not yet understood anything I have been saying? How can you ask me such a stupid question? You have fallen into the same trap as our prey with expressing wonder at the digital world and your unfounded fears as to its potential service to the Enemy. When Lysias proposed to Socrates that the new invention of writing would allow humans to access speeches and remember everything Socrates chastised him, pointing out that humans would now forget everything. We have seen this steady progression of forgetfulness for centuries, and this new invention accelerates humanity’s demise even faster.

I will be as frank as possible in my final letter to you, so there will be no mistaking how we are populating hell, and so you can spare me your fanatical worries. The Christian faith hinges on historical events that occurred in real places. More than an abstract philosophy, this faith seeks embodiment. The Internet enables us to directly attack time, space, and presence.

Screens have replaced geography and presence. Our prey believes nothing is real unless it can be delivered in the form of an image. Even the dangerous words of Scripture have become “floating text” in the digital ether, subjecting them to all manner of wonderful misquotes and partial readings. They turn themselves into images, managing multiple fragmented identities in various locations. Images can be powerful catalysts for imagination, which is dangerous, but we are corrupting the power of the image so that it warps the imagination. We create an image of everything from breakfast cereal to snakes so that it dulls their power to stun and shock. Everything is an image. What’s more “screenshots” allow for images of images which further remove presence, geography, and identity. They don’t know who they are anymore, and no one truly knows them either as images only show fragments of life, or alleged life to be debated among complete strangers.

We have compressed space and time. Instant communication and real-time updates on world events inspire our finite subjects to keep up with infinite messages of every kind. Sabbath is lost even by those who profess to practice it. A never-ending stream of divergent digital revelations follow them as closely as the Enemy’s goodness and mercy would if they had time to experience them. Instead they practice a way of life marked by present absences.

Notice how they can be in each other’s presence but only engaged via screens? New laws trying to ban them from engaging the digital ether while driving continue to fail as they cannot look away. No matter what they do they are distracted by the glow of the virtual icons they carry. They are physically present but otherwise absent. They cannot totally exist “in the moment” because the moment must be memorialized as an image to be shared with others wishing to live vicariously through the image, and they can’t look away. Like an unfortunate soul caught staring into the eyes of Medusa they turn to stone—both in ambition and in capacity for compassion. This ether is an all-encompassing ambient reality that haunts humanity.

Yet they won’t see this, so it isn’t something to waste energy on trying to prevent this realization. Just continue to flood the ether with images of every kind, from the tame to the profane. The Enemy’s image will be undone as the multiplicity of images pressures our subjects to conform by constant engagement. Soon hyperreality will replace the screens altogether and overlay our Enemy’s creation with holographic images. Reality and virtual reality have become one, and people will forget which space they actually occupy. It will be a civilization that functions through disembodied faculties in an augmented reality that will usher in the age of the post-human.

Which is to say, a world of ghosts.

Humanity will devolve into ghosts in the machine and create a spectral paradise. The very thought brings a tear to my old eyes as I see signs of its soon coming.

Until that great day…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

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