Saturday, March 26, 2011

On-Demand Experiences

Last month philosopher and apologist Doug Groothuis posted a blog about background music in public. He's not a big fan of it. But this article got me thinking a bit about the reasoning behind such intrusive music.

It seems that background music is normally part of an "environment" or "experience" that is trying to be replicated. From being in Mexico (mexican restaurants complete with Mariachi Bands) to the fasion runway (hip clothing stores "runway" music blaring in the background), companies are trying to create "experiences" for people.

Our postmodern culture has a fascination with "experiences" and "experience" in general. Authenticity (or reality) does not occur to people in today's culture. The experiences that I'm talking about here are artificial and inauthentic (not the real thing). However, authenticity cannot be experienced as easily or frequently as these facades. Culture trades few experiences with the authentic for many experiences with the inauthentic. With constant bombardment of the inauthentic "experiences", we lose the ability to appreciate the authentic experience.

Going back to music in general, I've noticed that lately a lot of "artists" who really can not sing are popular. Many fans of music are familiar with AutoTune. It is a lovely piece of technology that allows sound engineers to "correct" the notes that vocalists sing if they are incorrect. Unfortunately, if used too much, it makes the singer sound quite robotic. This is a great example of the artificial replacing the authentic. Fantasy supplants reality in such a way that it is preferred over reality. As we get inundated with the artificial and fantastic, we gradually lose the ability to appreciate the authentic.

The same thing has happened to truth. People have tried to live in their own fantasies for so long, that they don't want to leave them. This comes from a very existential way of viewing life. "Life is what I make of it; live like there is no tomorrow. Prefer the inauthentic because you never know if you will have the chance to experience the authentic; and for that same reason, I don't need to worry about not being able to appreciate the authentic"

Whether we are talking about truth or culture, being constantly bombarded with inauthenticity has huge detriments. The the inability to appreciate the authentic (reality and truth) becomes us. When we no longer have the ability to appreciate truth when we see it, so we have little reason to accept it or live our lives by it. We will gradually lose the ability to discern between what was created by man and what was created by God. Not recognizing the difference leads to confusion about to who or what to credit. Also focusing on having these "on-demand experiences" encourages us to think existentially. If we only think about the "here and now", we do not contemplate the future or reflect on the past. If we are perpetually entertained with these "experiences" we have no reason to investigate the deep questions of life and reality. All we have is the current moment.

Now that I've dumped on these "experiences" quite a bit, let me talk about the benefits of them. Obviously, if we spent our entire lives only allowing for the truly authentic in everything, we would not be exposed to much of reality. These inauthentic experiences give us a taste (no pun intended) of the authentic. For those who are able to experience both, comparisons can be made and critiques offered to enhance the accuracy of the depictions for those who don't have the resources to enjoy certain authentic experiences.

Two of my favorite things are inauthenticities: ethnic foods and educational television. I don't have the opportunity to travel worldwide just to experience the culinary delights of the nations. Neither do I have the resources to investigate every discipline of science that grab my curiosity. However, local restaurants give me a taste of authentic foods, which makes me desire the authentic experience even more; and television (and the internet) give me the opportunity to "look" through the eyes of researchers to discover the beauty of creation. I can even learn to appreciate AutoTune...from a technical perspective, not artistic, of course. 

The most significant thing that I can think to tie all this together is "love". Culture has spent decades of time and billions of dollars promoting an inauthentic love. Many have been so persuaded that the inauthentic accurately reflects the authentic, that when they see the Authentic, the see no significance or even see it as wrong. For those of us who have experienced the authentic love of Christ, we need to be in the culture critiquing its inaccurate portrayal of love. We cannot isolate ourselves from culture (even the inauthentic parts), we must be in the middle of it. We must be familiar enough with the inauthentic and authentic to show those who live for the inauthentic why the truth and reality of Christ's love and His sacrifice for us are to be treasured above all. From that Christian perspective, the inauthentic may be enjoyed at the same time that we are guiding people back into a loving relationship with their Creator.

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