Star and Spectator: Linking Video Game Addiction and Smartphone Addiction

Anthropologist Thomas de Zengotita links smartphone addiction and gaming addiction in his 2014 article “We Love Screens, Not Glass,” theatlantic.com (March 12, 2014). There he argues screen technology has now evolved to reach a new pinnacle of addictive delight in the digital age because our screens make it possible for us to live in a dual role: as both spectator and star.

This dual spectator/star role in social media on a 4-inch screen, de Zengotita writes, is seen

in the special intensity, the devotional glow you see on the face of a stranger in some random public place, leaning over her handheld device, utterly absorbed, scrolling through her options or matching twitter-wits on a trending topic, feeling the swell of attention rising around her as she rides an energy wave of commentary, across the country, around the world — it’s like the touch of a cosmic force, thanks to the smallest and most potent of all personal screens, the one on her smartphone.

Sum it up this way: that screen is the one she can take pictures through as well as watch pictures on; hence, that special intensity. It testifies to the power of that dual aspect of display, a reciprocal intimacy no engagement with any other medium, let alone reality, can match.

Actually only gaming comes close, a place where the roles of spectator/star immediately merge in realtime:

Here is the essence of it in the case of the video game. A seasoned gamer has mastered the console. He isn’t conscious of his physical situation. He presses the buttons to turn and shoot and jump without thinking about them. He becomes the agent on the screen. There is no gap between his dirty little 14-year-old thumb and his avatar’s massive biceps as it wields that enormous gatling gun against the zombie horde. He is the “first person shooter.”

As a first person shooter, you get to perform and you get to watch at the same time. The powers and pleasures of two kinds of centrality — spectator and star — have merged. An untapped possibility for synaptic closure has been realized and an historically unprecedented form of human gratification attained. No wonder those games are addictive.

This same addictive quality lures us back to our smartphones, yet in a slightly offset way, leading us to engage in a dance between these roles as spectator and star. On your phone

you also engage with yourself, with your world, on this new plane of being where agent and observer are fused. But the smartphone ups the ante. It introduces just enough distance, just enough lag time, between you and your doings on the screen to allow for an endless cascade of tiny moments of arrival, of recognition. Each prompt, each response, intercedes between you and the representations of yourself and your world that you are both producing and contemplating. . . .

Now you get to dance with yourself, with extensions of yourself, and be yourself too. Watch closely the next time you see someone doting over that precious device. It is as if a defunct genetic program for primate grooming behavior has been hijacked and all that fingertip care is being lavished now on the body of a mini-me — my most faithful companion, my abiding reflection, my self, my other.

The Cost of Getting Imago Dei Wrong

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Ingolf Dalferth, Creatures of Possibility: The Theological Basis of Human Freedom (2016), 12–14:

From time immemorial, this representation of the human person has been taken theologically as an interpretation of the biblical reference to the human being as imago Dei (the image of God). Humans are related to God in that they are endowed with reason, but they manifest their likeness to God as in a mirror obscurely, because they are animals and not (only) reason, as God is.

This interpretation of the doctrine of human beings created in the image of God, which took as its reference point the image of human beings as animals endowed with reason, had disastrous consequences for the interpretation of human creatureliness and sin.

The creation-theological distinction between God and humankind became associated in a confusing way with the hamartiological distinction between true humanity as intended by God and fallen humanity as it actually is; the human faculty of reason was linked with human God-relatedness, whereas the human animal nature was linked with the human state of separation from God. Thus the problem of sin was read into the animal nature of humankind, with the far-reaching consequence that every animal and physical impulse was suspected of separating and turning human beings away from their Creator.

Conversely, relationship with God became focused entirely on reason, with the equally far-reaching consequence that reason became the definitive touchstone for determining whether it was possible to treat God seriously as God and the human person seriously (or even at all) as God’s creation. . . .

This singles human beings out, but it also puts them in a permanently precarious position. Neither mere animals nor wholly angels, they are compelled to find their identity on the border between two orientation points, neither of which they can lose sight of, lest they fall headlong and fail to achieve their potential. For whenever they want to be more than they are, behaving as if they were angels, they in fact become less than they are: inhuman animals. And whenever they want to be less — in other words, mere animals — they do not even achieve the level of animal life.

Don Carson: How to Destroy Evangelism with Political Animosity

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From Don Carson’s eighteenth lecture on Revelation delivered on June 17, 2005:

There is a great deal of anger on the American right at the moment. Let me just say a little bit about it, because it is troubling. It’s hard to know what to do. If you want to make a lot of money with a Christian book in this country, write a book that says what’s wrong with America listing all the bad things that you possibly can on the left. Demonize the left. It’ll sell like hotcakes on the right.

Do you want to raise money for Focus on the Family, or a whole lot of other institutions that are really good institutions in many ways? If they really want to raise a lot of money in a hurry, let them tell you the worst horror stories of the month. The money flows in. The reason it does is because there is so much in this society that feels, with a certain amount of justification, that “All those nasties on the left are taking away our heritage. They’re perverting our schools. They’re overthrowing principles of jurisprudence. They’re making the city unsafe.”

There is anger. There is anger seething through the whole land. Contrast that with the first Christians taking the gospel in the Roman Empire. They were nobodies. They didn’t have anybody taking away their heritage. They were out to take over the heritage. They looked around and saw an extremely pluralistic empire, and they said with Caleb, in effect, “Give us this mountain.”

They kept witnessing, kept getting martyred, and so on, and it was a revolution, finally, a spiritual revolution. We can’t do that today, at least we find it very difficult, because we’re so busy being angry all the time that at the end of the day not only do we lose our credibility with people on the left, they start demonizing us back, but we have no energy or compassion left to evangelize.

When you’re busy hating everybody and denouncing everybody and seeking political solutions to everything it’s very difficult to evangelize, isn’t it? It’s very hard to be compassionate, to look on the crowds as though they’re sheep without a shepherd, very hard to look on them like that when they’re taking away my heritage.

Yet, at the same time, because it is a democracy, there are things we ought to be doing to draw the line here and there, even if you understand the laws don’t finally engender justice. They might preserve it for awhile, but finally they’re all broken and you have to change the laws. There are things we ought to be doing. There are faithful things we ought to be doing.

But at the end of the day if you can’t do it with compassion, and gently, and leave the doors open for evangelism, boy, you destroy everything. I think one of the Devil’s tactics with respect to the church on the right today is to make them so hate everybody else that at the end of the day they can’t be believed anywhere, not even in the proclamation of the gospel.