What now little buddy?
When I was a kid, there were only a handful of channels.
As a result, everyone ended up watching pretty much the same thing.
And as a result, if I sit around a dining room table with a bunch of adults, we can all collectively sing the theme songs to Gilligan’s Island or Green Acres or The Beverly Hillbillys.
It is stuck in our heads.
It is stuck there because, even though it seemed like we were awash in ‘media’, in those days we were not.
Bandwidth and broadcast frequencies were so expensive that the range of content was remarkably limited. As a result, we all experienced the same thing at the same time. This paucity of information had an impact. We remembered it as somehow important.
I think of this as I am reading The Message and the Kingdom: How Jesus and Paul Ignited a Revolution and Transformed The Ancient World by Neil Asher Silberman.
It is the Jesus Story, but told through the eyes of both archaeological and political history, as opposed to religion.
What strikes me in reading the book is the paucity of information or ‘media’ of any kind in the ancient world. People lived in a world completely devoid of text, print, advertising, (and needless to say, radio, TV, movies or the web). But also of pretty much anything at all. It is really hard for us, awash in an ocean of ‘stuff’ from movies to music to billboards to even begin to try and imagine what this kind of world was like. But if you can, then you can also understand that the only ‘media’ available then was the local storyteller or minstrel or prophet (if you were so lucky to be near one). And the prophets words were (or must have been incredibly powerful). John the Baptist was the Walter Cronkite of his day, times perhaps a million. He was all there was. His ‘news’ is all there was. There was no other message. No competing media.
And so when Jesus began to preach, the power of his words, the impact of his message was so strong (and as the book points out, delivered to a community prepared not just for change but primed for revolution), that it is hard for us to fathom the impact this must have had in its time. It speaks not just to the power of what he said, but also to the media vacuum into which his message was delivered.
Today we live in a world of a million competing voices, and it would seem that there are soon going to be many many many more of these. What once seemed an inundation of television programming in the 60s toady seems quaint. Simple.
Were Jesus to return (or appear for the first time, depending on your predelictions), would his voice even be heard above the clutter? Would he post on Youtube in the hopes of getting a million hits? Even then, would his message resonate?
Olivia Judson, in The New York Times of a few days ago made the very interesting point that evolution happens far faster than we once thought.
The second reason for teaching evolution is that the subject is immediately relevant here and now. The impact we are having on the planet is causing other organisms to evolve — and fast. And I’m not talking just about the obvious examples: widespread resistance to pesticides among insects; the evolution of drug resistance in the agents of disease, from malaria to tuberculosis; the possibility that, say, the virus that causes bird flu will evolve into a form that spreads easily from person to person. The impact we are having is much broader.
I wonder if we as a species are not also subject to the same kind of pressures that we place on the environment of other creatures. If we stress the oceans then more jellyfish appear. If we stress our intellectual environment, do we evolve to compensate?
Is it possible, for example, that the spike in autism is not perhaps an evolutionary response to a world awash in noise and information and blather? That perhaps we evolve to block out the clutter? I am sure there are those with better answers than I. I am neither scientist nor theologian.
I am, however, acutely aware that as you inundate people with an endless barrage of anything, their senses begin to become less and less responsive. The ‘message’ is lost and soon it takes a bigger and bigger kick just to get someone’s attention.
In the long run, this probably is not so good.