Came across a fascinating article by anthroplogist & Intel fellow, Genevieve Bell on Techno-Spiritual Practices, the full text of which can be downloaded here.  Ultimately, she argues for the need to design ubiquitous computing for spiritual life, not just secular life alone.

Here are some particularly insightful highlights around the interplay between technology shaping spiritual expression as well as spiritual practices demanding technology be developed to meet new needs:

However, it is my contention that these examples of the ways in which new technologies are delivering religious experiences represent the leading edge of a much larger re-purposing of the internet in particular, and of computational technologies more broadly, that has been underway for some time…These techno-spiritual re-purposings are important for the ways in which they highlight alternate paradigms for technology creation, deployment, consumption and resistance, as well as pointing to different communities, practices and habits that could be supported. Furthermore, these re- purposings seems to be of critical importance as the realm of technological infrastructure extends progressively beyond the office, into the home, and many other points of social and cultural significance, including one presumes, places of worship, ritual and meditation. After all, life also happens in the sacred domain.

To have been there for Computer-Human Interaction conference she describes at the question under consideration was simply:  “Can we have spiritual experiences online?”

She highlights several examples of techno-social practices, including:

  • Pew research stating that 64% of online Americans have used the internet for religious or spiritual purposes.
  • Buddhist practice in China of having your mobile phone blessed
  • texting messages to be printed & placed at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, to enable remote participation
  • virtual confessions (quite controversial in Roman Catholic circles, especially)
  • online memorial halls such as “Earth Village” in China to support ancestor worship
  • a Mecca-finding phone app in Malaysia so Muslims can respond accurately to the call to prayer

Bell concludes that

If it is indeed the case, that religion is a primary framing narrative in most cultures, and then religion must also be one of the primary forces acting on people’s relationships with and around new technologies – one could go as far as to suggest that there can be no real ubiquitous computing if it does not account for religion.

What an impressive article by someone who comes from an experience design perspective with an anthropological lens–this article is not new, but it is extremely relevant!