Summer Lights 2014

Only hours after the appearance of the Digital Tabernacle at the Steel Rails Sessions, Sister Laurel and I set out on a mission to save the digitally-darkened souls of the wayward people at the Summer Lights Festival in Kitchener. We heard many confessions and cleansed a myriad digital sins, bringing a bright light of analog goodness to the city, and increasing the brilliance of the solstice. Thanks go out to CAFKA for helping to organize this event, and for providing a sacred sign to advertise our mission. The photostream is available here.

Ministers of the Digital Tabernacle brighten the solstice.

Ministers of the Digital Tabernacle brighten the solstice. Photo credit: June MacDonald. Thanks June.

Steel Rails 2014


Saving analog souls is sobering work.

In May, the Ministers of the Digital Tabernacle spread the analog word on the train platform in Waterloo as part of Steel Rail Sessions 2014. The flock was rather resistant, especially since we were asking them to give up their devices while riding an “art train” from Waterloo to St. Jacobs. But many souls were saved, nonetheless, even wildly drunken souls. View the photostream from the lifelogging camera/crosses here.

A display of devices cleansed by the Digital Tabernacle.

A display of devices cleansed by the Digital Tabernacle.

Thanks go out to Sister Laurel and Brother Nick for their chaste and generous contribution to this holy mission of digital abstinence.


Liturgy of the Digital Tabernacle

For Slate Magazine’s Future Tense.

Ministers of the Digital Tabernacle

Brothers Ron and Marcel of the Digital Tabernacle, entreat passersby to lock away their devices and confess their digital sins.”

Liturgy of the Digital Tabernacle

A voice cries out in the desert:

“Know thyself, not they selfies!” 

“Digital media will not save you!”

“The zero is not whole and the one is not The One!”

Technically, we’re not in the desert — we’re in a dusty parking lot in downtown Phoenix. And the voice is not coming from the Prophet Isaiah, but from Professor Ron Broglio, whom I’ve ordained as a Minister of the Digital Tabernacle. As people wander into the massive circus tent at Emerge: Carnival of the Future, they are greeted by a pair of shifty evangelists preaching the analog Word.

“Confess your digital sins! Lock away your devices!”

How do people react? Mostly with terror. Not only are they being hailed unexpectedly by black-robed zealots who aren’t afraid to point fingers and make full eye contact. But they are also being asked to partake in a ritual that threatens the very core of their daily existence. In short, we are beseeching them to give up their handheld devices and experience a small portion of their lives as analog penitents, free of digital mediation.

Behold the sacred liturgy of the Digital Tabernacle:

1) penitent submits device to the Ministers;

2) Ministers read prayer of analog blessing, and lock device in Tabernacle;

3) penitent receives prayer card to provoke analog contemplation;

4) after a while, penitent returns to Tabernacle and confesses digital sins;

5) Ministers read prayer of analog absolution;
6) Ministers cleanse device with Holy Spray and Sacred Cloth of Rubbing;
7) Ministers return device to penitent.

Yes, it’s basically a device coat-check and cleaning service. But there’s something more serious happening here.

At Emerge, the Ministers absolved every filthy digital sin that came their way, from “I don’t e-mail my mother often enough” to “I sleep with my device under my pillow even though I know it’s bad for me.” Some penitents experienced an epiphany at the Digital Tabernacle. As one righteous soul proclaimed: “I was arrogant and thought that I was in control. But it turns out that I needed an education. I could barely survive 30 minutes away from my device. Now I know better and I have nothing but gratefulness in my heart.” Amen, brother! We all have insecurities about our reliance on digital devices, a nagging sense that we are slowly losing our souls — but few of us are prepared to admit it.

In a short essay written in 1957, Marshall McLuhan foresaw a “Liturgical Revival” in which electronic media would create new cultural rituals. Today, as we relentlessly consume new media products and services, we simultaneously adopt new rituals and communal practices without even considering their impacts on our brains, bodies, and souls — let alone our physical environments. Digital Tabernacle sheds light on our digital habits, and offers a space for contemplation in a world of online distraction, neuromarketing, and psychotechnology. The project asks us to create new rituals that will save us from the tarnation of digital (de)vices.

I should add that although the Tabernacle preaches digital abstinence, it is not immune to the sin of irony. Working in mysterious ways, the preachers wore Autographer lifelogging cameras, which I hacked to look like crosses. A full photo stream of the event can be viewed here. Still, whenever a digital recording device was pointed our way, the Ministers reproached it sternly with an outstretched finger and the words: “Don’t Document! Repent!” This drove many a digital heathen to flee in fear.

Digital Tabernacle is a prelude to a large-scale project called “12 Tabernacles for the Contemplation of Digital Abstinence.” You can follow its development here. Rest assured, this mysterious installation will not be free of digital sin. Look not to the cloud of data, my brothers and sisters. Look to the cloud of unknowing.



Preaching the Cloud of Unknowing

“Seeketh thee not the cloud of data. Seeketh thee instead the cloud of unknowing, to which thou shalt be led through contemplative action and cleansing in the digital tabernacle.”

“The higher part of contemplation, as it may be had here, hangeth all wholly in the forgetting of digital darkness and in a rising into the cloud of unknowing; with a loving stirring and a blind beholding.”

“Have hope, good people! We are not OF the digital. We are merely IN the digital. Seekest thee not the distractions of the digital. Seekest thee extraction from the digital and immersion into the cloud of unknowing.”