Preaching a Contextual Word Day 3–“Where do we find meaning in a world of screens?”

This lecture was led by Dr. Andrew Root. Much of the morning session of our class built on the work of Jean Baudrillard, a French philosopher who stands alongside Derrida.

In our days meaning becomes framed by the screens in our lives. Consider how people at a concert will watch the concert through cell phones, even if they are in the first couple of rows.

People do not imagine an event is really happening until it is experienced through the mediation of a screen.

A challenge for us today is that it is difficult to construct meaning of events in our lives when the event is not nearly as prominent as the screens and signs that point to that event.

The structure of the signs of the signified is the means through which meaning is constructed. A child will point to an object and call it a name and then will see something similar and try to figure out if that new object is a part of the same scheme as the other.

What happens to how we structure meaning when the sign no longer points to a signified?

Advertising and branding for products are not designed to sell a real product, but instead through the product they sell meaning and identity. Watch most commercials today and you will find that it is not selling just the details of the product but the life you have through that product.

Signs (words and images) are supposed to point to the signified. The sign is a symbol that is meant to call to our minds the real. Of course sometimes a sign is just pointing to the reality of a sign. 🙂

Now in our western world we are placing increasing weight on the importance of the signs and less on the signified. We are living in a time of simulation that becomes more important than reality. Models, online profiles, celebrities, and video games are all examples of presenting signs existing apart from the signified.

Is the simulation real? We are used to verifying a signified through experience, but we are not able to verify a sign as anything more than just a sign. An increasing experience of simulations numbs us to what is real and what is unreal.

The reality of despair and struggle can not be organized through a life that is built on the farce of signs that don’t point to any reality.

Simulacra is a word that describes the effect of a simulation that has lost its breadcrumbs to the reality.

It is easier to be cruel to an online presence because that person is only a sign and does not have the weight of the signified. At least we imagine that the Facebook of a person is not really a person because the breadcrumbs to reality are so hidden.

What does this do to a person’s sense of self when we become reduced to being just a symbol and not allowed to be a reality?

The hyper real is a phrase to describe the difference between the real and the unreal simulation.

It has become difficult for people to discern the hyper real from what is real. What is true and untrue and what is meaning and unmeaning has lost its grounding.

We could respond to this crisis by giving up on having anything real in our lives and just live inside of a simulation of life that is surrounded by the hyper real. Unfortunately the hyper real can’t handle the troubles of real life because there is no substance in the hyper real.

The church in this time of struggle can create grounding in what is real. In the church we create a sacred space to find out what is real. People in the church do not need to just lift up the illusion of self. So we are prepared to deal with the words cancer, death, abuse, and suffering because they not only exist but we have our God who is not just a sign but God is significant.


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