Building Heaven 1.1 (The City is Here for You to Use)

Sorry for the delay folks…

Ok, my family is stabilizing (thanks for your prayers for my mom and dad), my show’s down, I’ve got a new studio space and I’m pressing forward.

I recently went to a lecture at Cooper Union School of Art (where I work) on technology and the future. I have to admit, I was initially skeptical that it was going to turn into a yawn-fest of obvious information, but Adam Greenfield introduced some interesting thoughts from his book, “Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing”

Urban form and experience in the age of ambient informatics. This was the subtitle for the lecture.

I think his premise is quite interesting, but quickly realized that he sees technology as a means to reform/re-invigorate/redeem (you pick) cities and our urban experience. What it seemed that he was ultimately aiming for was an increased possibility for genuine community – created and assisted by new forms of ambient technology (technology you use without needing to think about it). This is great, but it doesn’t address some fundamental problems with humanity…like the fact that even when everything is easy and friendly, we still tend to act like selfish twits around one another. It’s as if society needs some sort of outside perspective or influence to provide a model for living. hmmm.

Even if he can predict and propogate a leap forward for urban culture toward greater ease and freedom, he didn’t really acknowlege the potential for our lifestyle integration to be manipulated by those with the $$ to fund it…i.e. Monsanto, General Motors and McDonalds **please note a correction to this statement in the comments section of this post**. If our ambient technology can eventually be so precise as to know when to tell us where to go and why, who’s going to keep the greedies from subtly telling us to buy their crap in the precise way we will be likely to respond with our credit card? The government? Right, I forgot how well our administration has been doing to stave off corporate influence and corruption.

It points to a line of thought I have been finding increasingly interesting. That life is about the pursuit of shalom (peace). Christians believe that true piece, wholeness with people, the Earth, and God is found in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:19-20 says of Jesus, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Christ was the means of God reconciling all things to Himself. This conference was interesting in how it introduced new technologies and ideas for design to create a better city. What he was looking for was a means of finding or creating shalom. What he was looking for was what Jesus Christ offers – reconciliation, renewal, redemption of our whole lives, our cities and our Earth. Perhaps Greenfield was looking for people to build heaven in New York City. Maybe God is looking for people to do the same.

This is obviously a limited argument, so if you have issues, feel free to comment. I think the topic is worth further consideration and will probably come up in future posts.

A recent source of inspiration has been a few recent sermons I’ve heard from Rob Bell. Check them out here (“wine and heaven” is pretty amazing).

grapes and peas.




Filed under Greens, religious propaganda, The Art World

4 responses to “Building Heaven 1.1 (The City is Here for You to Use)

  1. …he didn’t really acknowlege the potential for our lifestyle integration to be manipulated by those with the $$ to fund it…i.e. Monsanto, General Motors and McDonalds.

    As I pointed out in the talk, this is because I spent most of my book warning about this potential. I take it as a given that ambient technology will be used in ways inimical to humanist values – my interest is now in finding ways for it to support community, conversation, and quality of urban life. (You’ll hopefully have noted, too, that “heaven” doesn’t figure anywhere in there. The interventions I’d like to see are, on the contrary, eminently practical and achievable measures, taken by ordinary people, at the scale of the real-world city we all share.)

  2. Thanks for the response, I’ve actually got the book on my reading list. I’ll look forward to how the warnings are addressed and hopefully revisit it on the site. My apologies for the omission.

    I understand and fully respect the disassociation with the notion of “heaven” and hope you will not find this an unsuitable/offending association.

    What I find interesting from my perspective is that Christians traditionally have a (bad) habit of not seeing any connection between what the “eminently practical and achievable measures, taken by ordinary people, at the scale of the real world city we all share” and what we consider “heaven” (or Hell).

    The result is often two-fold: 1) a cultural reputation for being disconnected simpletons who believe in fairy-tale places. 2) a tendency to neglect and often participate in the willful destruction of our environments because of a hope of the sweet chariot carrying us “home.”

    I think there are a few people making the point that references in the Bible to either heaven or hell always point to a present reality. When we (Christians), therefore, participate in efforts to improve our environment in any way, we participate in creating shalom – an ecology of wholeness and peace with each other, our cities, the Earth and God. It sounds a lot like the biblical descriptions of heaven.

    With this post, I wanted to touch on similarities in thinking with non-religious (or otherwise unstated) individuals who seem to have similar ends in mind (i.e. a city we all, and I sincerely mean all, want to live in).

    I should probably also point out that my views and opinions do not in any way reflect those of Cooper Union or it’s affiliates.


  3. p.s. I also failed to mention that I tend to get rather nerdishly excited at the developement of some of the technologies referenced. Indeed, there is exciting potential for such measures and interventions.


  4. Beth

    This is a great post, wayne, and the connections you make are really interesting. It’s totally fair for you to look at what someone says and how it affects what you’re thinking, as you did make it clear those were your thoughts. That’s what the ambient technology (ha!) of the web is for.

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