Christian and Cybernetic Time: The Case of Facebook’s Timeline

Kirk Bozeman has provided a thought-provoking piece in Christ and Pop Culture concerning the latest installment in the now all-too-common process of updating Facebook formats. The tweak in question, called the “Timeline“, keeps a record of every input made by the user on Facebook. Going further, however, Bozeman notes that Facebook places additional, not-too-subtle hints to have every stage of life that occurred before life on Facebook to become incorporated into its purview into a literal timeline of the user’s entire life. In constitutes, according to Bozeman, a shift in the way Facebook would have us represent ourselves online, from a patchwork of seemingly discordant textual bursts to a complete, semi-public narrative.
There are a number of themes that can be explored from Bozeman’s post. There is the theme of how Facebook’s new tweak constitutes what Foucault calls a “technology of the self”, wherein the immersion into Facebook’s timeline can be seen as a cybernetic version of the ancient Christian practice of “writing one’s self”. The task of writing, or in the case of Facebook, the task of uploading images, becomes the means whereby the self becomes affectively built up and transformed.
This may indicate a cultural opening within cyberspace that potentially overlaps with the Church’s salvific mission. What should give us pause, on the other hand, is the fact that Bozeman’s otherwise insightful post does not touch on something that is inherent in the DNA of cyberculture itself. This “something” is a Modern notion of time as a scientific unit of measure, a notion that is so deeply ingrained into our cultural background that we hardly take notice of it. With Facebook slowly institutionalising “Timeline”, it is also externalising what is built into the platform from which it operates, namely the Modern notion of clock-time. Indeed, there is no other notion of time that cyberspace can externalise.
At first glance, this may seem too mundane to be considered a cultural threat. But recall from an earlier post on St. Evagrius of Pontus, that modern clock time institutionalises in contemporary form what Evagrius calls the “Noonday Demon”, wherein the stringing out of a series of identical moments mimics the sense of time standing still. As Evagrius wrote in the Praktikos, this freezing of time becomes the seedbed that breeds first a restlessness, builds up into a hatred of one’s life, and culminates in despair. If the observation this post is correct, and cyberspace can only be constituted by clock-time, then its cultural emissions can only follow the trajectory outlined by Evagrius.
As also mentioned in that previous post, the Christian operating in cyberspace must be aware of its notion of time, and must also be aware that the Church operates by a different time marked by radical individuation, where each moment is not the same as what came before – a Kairotic time. The Christian operating in Facebook must be aware that the differences of the two schemata of time, demarcate two different foundations for two different cultural formations. In Augustine’s terms, we see in Timeline a clear demarcation between two cities.

If the observations of the link between modern time and the “Noonday Demon” made in a previous post is correct, then the Christian cannot be neutral to Facebook’s reduction of life to merely a chain of unconnected events set against the backdrop of modern “clock time”. In other words, the Christian on Facebook must resist the urge to frame his real life in accordance to  Facebook’s “Timeline”, but resist also cyberspace’s pressure to confine all of life within the strictures of clock-time.

However, if cyberspace is an extension of the Augustinian city of man, such a resistance cannot be undertaken exclusively within the confines of cyberspace alone. The rebellion against clock-time must have a cultural headquarters, and this headquarters can be found outside cyberspace within the Church, and the rubrics of the Eucharistic liturgy that make the Church. Because the Eucharist makes the Lord of time present to us, it also makes present the Kairotic time in real terrain. The Eucharist makes present He for whom each step and each act is, as the prophet Isaiah and the Book of the Apocalypse remind us, is a new creation, a new thing, a new moment. More work thus needs to be undertaken to tease out the linkages between Liturgy and the engagement with cyberspace.

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3 thoughts on “Christian and Cybernetic Time: The Case of Facebook’s Timeline

  1. Neat. Kind of ties in with how the present moment is a participation in the reality of eternity, not just measurements of time to be passed through. So an act of choosing good in the present moment can define you more than all the things you've done in the past. Happy Lent, by the way!

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