The Pixelation of the World

I distinctly remember the first time I saw an HD TV.

This isn’t exactly a moment of generational memory, I know. Not a “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Or, for my generation, “where were you when you saw the first tower fall?” But a memory nonetheless.

I was in Bakersfield. My brother had purchased an HD TV, and walking into the house on a visit, I saw Sportscenter for the first time in all of its highly-defined glory. Ohhhh yeahhhh. Is that a scar on Chris Berman’s face? first downWhy does Stuart Scott’s left eye follow me no matter where I am in the living room? I stood mesmerized by the clarity and decided, almost on the spot, to get my first HD TV when I returned home.

Some technologies act like the Rubicon. Cross it, and you’re never going back. The first time you encountered cable Internet. The first time you used an iPod. The first time you saw the yellow first down stripe for football games. Everything before just disappears. You don’t even want to contemplate going back to the way things were. What’s a baud rate?!

Memories themselves are interesting phenomena. They’re often fuzzy, not totally clear, perhaps a bit pixelated at the edges, tied strongly to this or that sense (smell, in particular). In some ways, memories are like Monet paintings–they evoke strong emotional responses from afar, but when it comes to the actual details up close and personal, a lot of paint is running together. Yet we register them significant enough as a part of our identity to invoke the use of external aids to keep them safe and sound. And rightfully so. We fear the loss of our memory because memory is the twin sister of identity. To suffer from Alzheimer’s is to suffer from, in large part, identity loss.

We fear the loss of our memory because memory is the twin sister of identity. To suffer from Alzheimer’s is to suffer from, in large part, identity loss.

From time to time, atheists make the best theologians. Louis CK is onto something when he speaks of our magnetism toward devices and memory. We see events, not as they are, but through the screens of smartphones and tablets—when the clearest, most precious reality is right in front of us. Why? For posterity’s sake? The best moments of our lives are no longer seen for what they are; we allow a digital device to translate them for us.

Jesus is trending. I love it.

The digital device has become our window to the world. Like an hourglass requires sand to pass through a small opening in the middle, so our smart phones and tablets have become the choke-point for many of our sensory experiences. Sometimes this is a necessary and good thing! One of my favorite iPad apps is designed to identify the planets and stars in the night sky. Just hold the iPad up and you are able to interpret what you are actually looking at. Other times, I use Skype to see many old friends who live thousands of miles away…no doubt you use it, too. Techs are cool. No doubt about it.

There is a transaction taking place, though. In a sense, I’ve lost the sheer wonder of the night sky in my obsession to quantify it. To record it. To define it. And actually, to pixelate it. Rather than make an experience more high def, we’re intentionally making it less!phylactery

Phylacteries were specifically designed to be tools of memory. Jewish men were to bind the words of God on their heads and to their arms; God’s words were never far from the hearts of the faithful. Yet even this tool for goodness, for memory, transformed into the object of Jesus’ scorn in Matthew 23. The phylactery outranked the word it contained. While certainly a window to the world, this little box became a way to be recognized, to be honored, so that “everything they do is that men may see.” I have no doubt that Jesus is exposing a primal need of ours: to live in someone’s memory. In this case, though, that living object of memory mutated from the words of God to the delivery system itself to the man seeking recognition.

For the Christian, the window to the world is the Word itself. It interprets. It enlivens. It inspires and rebukes. The Word reminds us about who God is and who we are in relation to that fact. Using several different means to interpret the world feels to me like one who tries to ride two horses at the same time. Is there a way to conceive of a worldview that has more than one lens? I’m open to suggestions, but skeptical… What happens when one horse decides to go to Tulsa and the other to San Antonio?

Hold in your memory your child’s first birthday, your most recent fireworks show, and that time you tried kimchi. Try doing it without a screen. In 10 years’ time I’m pretty sure you don’t want your son to say, “I remember catching that fish—and not seeing Dad’s face because it was covered by the iPad taking pictures.” You’ll have less videos in your video folder (most of which you’ll never watch)…which is good. You’ll have stronger emotional ties to the event itself—richer, bolder, more nuanced—which is good. And you’ll subtly be reminded that God’s Word acts as the beautiful window to the world that offers the rich, full life…which is very good.


© Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Joel Oesch and Fishing for Leviathan with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. I used to try to photograph everything, and it was frustrating to lug around a camera bag, constantly pausing to change lenses only to have many of the moments I was attempting to capture evaporate while that was happening. Even when the moment lasted, the camera never fully catches everything contained in the moment. This fact is finally starting to sink in, and we’re learning to leave our digital scribe behind when we run out to experience something. I should listen more to the opening of Psalm 19.

    Another thought this post triggers is the fact that the conversion from analog to digital usually introduces some level of noise. I find this all the time when trying to look at God through my tech. Sometimes the noise is an alert that pops up on my screen to remind me that I have a dental appointment tomorrow at 11:00. Other times the noise comes from people tweeting, posting (or commenting) about God. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with people talking about God (as we are doing in this post & comment thread), but I think social media can bring out our tendency to speak more than we listen. Also, with so many people speaking, it gives me more to have to apply my discernment filter to.

    Thanks for the post. It definitely got the cranial juices flowing!

    • Joel Oesch

      August 3, 2015 at 3:22 pm

      Great thoughts, Chris. I have a camera in my office. My window overlooks a small green belt on campus, and I try to capture as many birds as possible. I cannot tell you how many times I missed a shot while fiddling with the focus or something like that. And, somehow, I lost the joy of the bird itself. Erg.

      What is social media, if not a platform to let yourself be heard? I’m well aware of this irony–I’m commenting on my own blog, checking my facebook page promoting said blog, and on and on… Hopefully, this noise will prompt more silence, if you get my drift.

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