Sunday, March 13, 2011

RFID and the Rapture?

I’ve been meaning to write my reflections on Halavais’s Search Engine Society since I finished reading it, but this is literally the first opportunity I’ve had all week. There were several things about the book that peaked my interest, but the concept that has stuck with me the most is in the closing chapter when Halavais starts talking about RFID tags.

As I read the descriptions of such, I couldn’t help but recall some memories from my childhood… I know it’s not generally polite to speak about religion, etc. in such open forums, so I’m not really sure how to approach this subject, but I’ll try my best not to offend anyone…

Throughout my childhood I was raised in a very strict Assemblies of God household, and through the 80’s there was a huge influx of Evangelistic Christian doctrine whose rhetoric my parents’ deeply adopted. Thankfully, they’ve come to their senses in many ways, and let’s just say that my childhood experiences have made me less than enthusiastic about being religious or about scrupulous conformity in any form.

Anyways, when I was young there was this Christian propaganda film that was very popular, that was based off the book by Lee Kedrie, A Thief in the Night: Unraveling the Mystery of Technology, Prophecy, and Christ’s Return.

In the story the Rapture, or Christ’s return, occurs and millions of people go missing from the Earth. Those who remain will have a second chance at redemption if they avoid any earthly things, repent, and get their heads cut off (yeah, my parent’s let me watch that, but I wasn’t allowed to watch Scooby Doo because there were ghosts and sorcerers—go figure). So toward the end of the story all those who basically choose to “be of earthly things” are given things that are somewhat like RFID tags or identification chips implanted in them. Those who resist the earthly things and chose to repent had to resist the temptation to immerse themselves in such technologies. Without such tags, they weren’t able to buy groceries or be part of any public service or do much of anything. Their resistance was representative of their resistance of the devil.

After so many years of trying to clear my mind of this type of rhetoric and ideologies, it’s strange to hear similar things actually come to fruition.  I wonder if the invention and expansion of such things will only play into these religious ideals and beliefs. I mean I’m sure there are plenty of Christians out there that could easily use these technologies as proof that the end is near.

I also wonder if some of this rhetoric is what makes some people so resistant to technologies? Halavais says that with such tags, almost everything has the potential to be identifiable. I think these technologies can be useful in many ways, but I do see how they can also seem intrusive to our privacy. 

I guess in a sense we’re trading our privacy for some convenience. Who knows what will come in the future. All I can say for now is that my daughter will most learn about things like RFID tags from their emerging presence in our lives, but however she learns about them, it won’t be in the same way I did –that’s for certain. 

P.S. Sorry if I offended anyone, I love you all : ) 


  1. Grace - I think it's important to discuss religion and spirituality. They're essential ingredients of many (most?) people's lives, and misunderstandings/intolerance are responsible for insane amounts of conflict worldwide. (Dialogue is certainly better than bombs.) Having lived through the '80s and read the Old and New Testaments, I'm familiar with the rhetoric you reference, and it certainly haunts me when I hear of some technological advances, like my friend's new PC that unlocks by reading her fingerprints.

    There are references to technology throughout the Bible, and some of the passages, particularly in Revelation, seem crafted to drive a wedge between God and science, to align the technium with Satan. This is interesting to me because it seems to illustrate a fear of losing Judeo-Christian control and influence to the inevitability of technologies, which are as naturally occurring and areligious as evolution. It also suggests that religious fear of the technium is nothing new - resistance from the pious is ancient.

  2. Well said John, and I don't think these fears are ephemeral in any way. The theology that I was exposed to growing up was almost fundamentalist to a degree, and yet my father was always an advocate of technology and science. Despite his advocations, I still had fears about such technologies as a young child. Oddly enough, I seem to embrace those innovations more than most people I know. I think there is a great divide between empiricism and religion, and I wonder if these two worlds will ever truly find common ground. In the few instances where I have seen such integration, it seems to be viewed as being too radical. Part of me thinks that this divide will only continue to grow as we see these revolutionary technologies come to fruition.