• The Right to be Unlimited?

     

    I recently finished listening to the History of Rome podcasts by Mike Duncan. They are a fun and enjoyable listen so, if interested in such things, check them out. One of the questions that arose for me as I listened to the slow decline of the Roman Empire was, why did the Roman Empire grow as it did? Why weren’t the Romans content with the Italian peninsula? Why did they need to extend their territory to the majority of the known western world? I ask this question because the sheer size of the empire factored into its eventual decline. The Emperors were unable to raise the armies, protect the borders, manage the bureaucracies and govern such a large and diverse people. By the end of the Western Empire, the Emperors were being propped up by Gothic armies and generals, and not in real control of their own land.

    It seems nearly impossible for a country to relinquish large amounts of territory that it has possessed and still maintain its national identity. Perhaps the Western Empire could have continued on (mere speculation, but bear with me) if it had accepted its losses and consolidated its territories to within defendable borders. If Rome had focused on the strategic territory it needed to defend rather than pouring capital into territory it could not, maybe it could have saved itself. Rome had lost sight of who it was. All its efforts focused on maintaining the illusion of grandeur as it crumbled from the inside. Trying to hold together this fragmented and over-stretched empire certainly factored into its eventual fall.

    By now you may be wondering if I’m a) highly unfocused and prone to rabbit trails or b) unable to use technology and uploaded the wrong video to correspond with this blog. I may be both, at times, but in this case it was intentional.

    The above commercial stood out to me, if not for its message, for its lack of subtlety. I believe the advertisers who crafted this commercial were well aware that it is a human desire to be “unlimited.” Much as the Roman Empire felt the need for unbridled expansion, so too has the rest of humanity been constantly trying to extend its reach through technological advances.  We have extended our ability to travel from foot, to cars, to planes. We have extended our ability to do violence from fists, to guns, to ballistic missiles. The desire to extend our abilities isn’t a new development in human history, but this generation’s unparalleled opportunity to “extend” our image through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, is. What’s more, with the rise of smartphones and 3G networks our ability to extend ourselves is instant.

    While we desire to be unlimited, we may actually be limiting ourselves through our efforts. In Shane Hipps’ book “Flickering Pixels,” Hipps argues that we must be aware of the effect of “extending” ourselves through technology. We, like the Romans, are in danger of extending into new territory and then, once obtaining it, being unable to give it up because we mistake our mediated extension as an essential part of our true identity.   We are in danger of spending our time maintaining our extended image in the territories of Facebook and Twitter, and of running out of the capital necessary to cultivate and protect the true Imago Dei that resides in our fleshly bodies.

     

    “Flickering Pixels” by Shane Hipps is a short, accessible and engaging book on how technology is reshaping us. Worth a read if you are interested in further engaging the topic of Faith and Technology.

    “History of Rome” by Mike Duncan can be found on Itunes and is definitely worth looking into if you have any interest in learning about Roman History.