Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

I encountered two men yesterday. They have no idea the other even exists, yet they are closely interconnected.

The first is Jeremy Bailenson of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford U. He looks more like a cleaned up truck driver than a professor. He was interviewed by Charlie Rose on TV.

The second was a grandfather at the College Hills Mall. He looked like a cleaned up truck driver, too. I first ran into--or more accurately, was run into—by a happy little boy of about four who ran pell-mell, toward me, then turned and looked behind.

“Grandpa?” I couldn’t see anyone. He couldn’t, either. “Grandpa?” Just a slight tremble of uncertainty in his voice. Then we saw the slyly smiling face of a man of sixty or so, peeking from behind one of those free-standing posters that suggest you should come to shop where you already are.

The little boy giggled like a maniac, ran wildly toward the poster, got to it, only to find that Grandpa had switched to the other side, and giggled even harder. I still hear him laughing. What a delightful sound. What delightful memories of playing that way with my own grandchildren.

Jeremy Bailenson says we should not go see our grandchildren because the main cause of global warming is the use of fossil fuels for travel. If we want our grandchildren to have a livable world, we have to stop traveling to see them.

He didn’t put it exactly that way, of course. But if the work of his lab continues at its present pace, old folks who have grandchildren in Europe and Vermont and other inaccessible places can play hide and seek with them while staying home and thus not make the future uninhabitable for those grandchildren we love.

Bailenson was not really thinking of grandparent travel. His concern is primarily business travel. If his lab makes virtual interaction even more immediate and available, many, maybe most, people can do their work while staying home. Unlike current versions of Skype and Facetime and the like, you won’t be able to do it in your underwear because it will seem like you are actually there. You can shake hands with the boss and it will feel like you’re really shaking hands.

Most old folks are past worrying about how to shake hands with the boss, but we aren’t past wanting to play with our grandchildren and have coffee with old friends. Wouldn’t that be neat, sitting in a wheel chair in “the home,” to be hiding behind a poster in the mall while giggling children look for you? Wouldn’t it be fun to sit with your Madagascar grandchildren in the Great American Ball Park and cheer for the Reds while sitting in the recliner in your living room? Wouldn’t it be grand to hang out at the coffee shop at the Union Building with your college roommate while she sits in her garden in Georgia and you’re in your parka in the Upper Peninsula?

Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but so did space travel and TV and computers. Sure, it could be used for evil ends, but so can jelly beans. We need to stop thinking like old fossils and embrace new possibilities. Virtually. Maybe even virtuously.

No, I don’t understand virtual reality, but I think it’s a lot like prayer.


I tweet as yooper1721.

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