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I have a feeling that the Holy Mountain reveals to us all what we need to see at that particular moment.

What I write here is only a snapshot of part of my brief visit. It would take a lifetime I'm sure to begin to understand Athos in any depth. And you're right: there are great variations. I visited a monastery which required all pilgrims to take a covid test before entry. The next monastery along refused entry to anyone who had been vaccinated. I don't think generalisations can be made about anywhere this old and spiritually deep.

Nevertheless, I was surprised by the roadbuilding, the mobile phone masts and - as I said - the smartphones. Despite all this though, it remains a unique and holy place. I have a feeling that if it ever falls, we are approaching the end. Perhaps this is why I am so sensitive about it.

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Apr 27, 2023·edited Apr 27, 2023Author

Happy to help! That gives me a warm glow this cold morning.

I remember that free U2 album. That's when I knew the devil was at work ;-)

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We certainly all have our obsessions. I have no interest in the US civil war, for example. I agree about Mammon though. But none of this tells us how we should live in the age of AI. Holding fast to faith in the living God is the obvious baseline. But there are many arguments about the best way to do that. Meanwhile, the Machine encroaches.

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One man's blind sopt is another's obsession, it seems.

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I envisage/dream about 'abbeys' of any number of different cultures, and I'm sure that's what will happen - indeed, already is. They'll all have their access rules. I'm sure the Earth Mother hippies have their own ideas about who could join them and who couldn't, and so will the Orthodox monks. That's all for the good to my mind.

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Apr 26, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

There are lots of hilltop villages in Italy, France and elsewhere that are almost moribund. I often wonder about setting up like-minded communities in one of those…

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There is a real danger of a purity spiral in a community oriented around what it wants to keep out.

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Do you create rules for who gets in?

Yes and no. Yes, in that in, let's say, a church based community, outsiders to the church probably wouldn't even be aware of its existence. I suppose that would amount to a passive turning away. No, not really, in that such a community would be an extension of the church which sponsors it, and you could suppose that a wannabe ( I know there's a word for it, and though it's driving me crazy, I can't come up with it ) would understand "the rules."

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The critical thing is that the oasis of tech-free living can't be built around the idea of being tech free. If some outbreak of Orthodox tech-free abbeys came into existence, the critical thing about them would have to be Christ, and the tech-free feature only a natural outcome of living Christ. You can't build a healthy and living community by orienting everyone around the thing they are united against. Ultimately, it is necessary to orient around what we believe is the highest good.

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Yes, I suspect there is no path forward toward creating these communities without religious leadership. Even with religious leadership it will be fraught, particularly if it remains fragmentary, volitional, and dependent on a particular leader/leaders. I don't currently see any sign of Orthodox leadership growing en masse toward a tech-free sensibility. Meanwhile, it's not something we can likely will into existence as individuals or through lay leadership without it becoming a toxic disaster.

I do think there are things we can do, and the general asceticism concept is helpful, but also completely without traction in your average parish. Anyway, I am working on some practical applications on how to approach technology as an individual, parent and Christian.

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Revivals could be good!

I'm not suggesting there isn't hope, but I do think we are somewhat stuck within a goopy mess, and viable solutions aren't likely to follow the path we might imagine or seek to will into existence. To use the language of Paul's entry, we are likely to find the best answer is in accepting the reality that we are cooked (the cooked can't realistically revert to being raw. they are already cooked). Maybe even those monastics on cell phones, and our parish priests, and our fellow parishioners and the Pentecostals are all already cooked. What then? I think there are answers which provide some "solutions" or improvements, but I am confident that self willed, volitional communities built specifically around an anti-tech sentiment are not viable.

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I love you Paul you're a genius!

I'm working on a big four-part essay now, in the first part of which my wife told me not to say "smash your smartphones" but that "lay them aside" was better -- but I think once she reads this, she'll appreciate how mild I was actually being in the first version :)

As part of our honeymoon, we visited an Orthodox monastery in California which had refused electricity for its whole life. And it was full of life. We could hardly find our way at all down the mountain from our cabin to the temple at 4:45 AM trying to get to matins, since there were no lights, also no path except a slim dirt one; finally, we saw a little flickering lampada in the dirt cemetery, and knew we were on the right track. Once we got to the temple, lit only by beeswax candles, it was like walking into honeycomb sun -- I shed tears -- just because it was too bright for my non-adjusted eyes.

As Sherrard says, "Electric light blacks out the liturgy"...

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I initially wrote 'jump up and down on them in a fury and then cast the resulting shards into the cleft of Mount Doom.' But on reflection I decided this made me sound even madder than I already am.

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Do you remember that Monty Python sketch where they're in the woods hunting down a single mosquito with like rocket propelled grenade launchers and machine guns and flame throwers and stuff and after about five minutes of nonstop firing, they're pretty sure it's dead? Put the phone where the mosquito is.

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Wow. Can I ask where in CA is this monastery? Sounds amazing and I’m in CA.

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Hey Erin! It's in Platina, if that helps. This was 12 years ago; I hope they are holding steady in the old school, but you never know these days. When we got there, we met a little old Russian woman -- who stilled lived in Russia, she was just visiting CA -- who said "When I want to come to a REAL monastery, I come here" -- ha!

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This is Fr Seraphim's brotherhood, right? I have long wanted to visit.

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That's the one. We got to go into his cell, which is tiny & he really did just sleep on boards!

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Come west, Paul. :)

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I made a small pilgrimage to the monastery on Vashon Island, WA last fall. Of course, it's out in the wilderness, seemingly cut off from the world. One of the first sights I had was the good abbot sitting on the porch in a rocking chair looking at his smart phone. A little disappointing, but not entirely shocking these days, I suppose. A sign of the times. The Divine Liturgy was remarkable and unspoiled, though. I sit with that as hope.

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Apr 27, 2023·edited Apr 27, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Ah, alas. Well, tomorrow I'm going to publish the first of a four-part essay which is, in part, my tiny magnum opus against the infiltration of smartphones within Orthodoxy, if that's of interest. Hopefully it will be upsetting to some, a breath of fresh air to most others; however people respond, what I really can't understand at all is feeling neutral about it. Or vaguely ho-hum Eyore about it -- like it just is what it is. The Roman Empire just was what it was, too.

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Sometimes Piglet energy rules my day. Sometimes Pooh. I look forward to having my inner Eyeore slapped on the ass!

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The same day I finished reading Zuboff's 'Age of Surveillance Capitalism' back in 2019, I met a group of friends at a local pub and told them that immediately upon closing the book my first action, if I had a smart phone (I didn't and still don't), would have been to "icepick the m------ f------ thing."

There's something very seductive to me about the prospect of driving a piece of sharp pointed steel right through the center of that little glass square......

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Ha -- amen, brother!

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Technology is not neutral, but the question I would ask of you is simply "Can it be redeemed?" For ponder the contrary, to say that it cannot be redeemed is to say that there is an area of creation (sub-creation) which is beyond the reach of God. Not sure you want to go there... [Also: Pirsig!! ;) ]

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023Author

But why would a material thing need redemption? Surely only a human can be redeemed - we have a soul and a choice. We can repent. It's not the tech that needs its redemption, but its creators.

I suppose what you're asking is whether we could use digital tech wisely, and in service of the good. Nate was probing me with the same question on his podcast. It's a good question and many people ask it. As ever, I'm a pessimist in my answer.

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God works on us to repent and achieve redemption. As sub-creators, can we work on technology to be redeemed even if it can't repent? If we properly repent of how we use the technology, perhaps that redemption is passed down to the technology as well. It's the difference between using a hammer to build a church or murder someone.

I'm not necessarily convinced by this argument, but it's something we should consider.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023Author

But a hammer is not designed to be intelligent, operate under its own will, or spawn copies of itself. It's just a lump of wood and metal. A hammer can't kill anyone by itself. Can we confidently say the same about AI?

What is happening now is unprecedented. I wonder if we can even call it 'technology' at all. We are trying to create conscious beings. We may instead be providing a place for existing beings to manifest. Either way, it is looking like it is out of our hands - or will be very soon. I would like very much to be wrong.

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A hammer is an extension of my body. So is an axe. A stone wall is the Earth as a shelter. AI is a fake ego. Three of these technologies I'd like to keep, one I'd like to erase from the planet forever.

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An AI cannot determine the intent of its creator or user. It is a dog that fetches. But also, AIs like human beings, must use energy. It is the finite supply of energy that constrains the reach and consequence of AI. So if you fear that the AI will enslave humanity, then you must either feed that (unpredictable) AI sufficient energy to do so, or rely upon the energy of its human agents.

Consider corralling the AIs of the future to provide a mathematical proof as significant as F = MA, aka Newton's Second Law of motion. Who is going to imagine engineering an airplane? How about a rocket engine? How about an intercontinental ballistic missile?

In other words, it is the energy of mankind that animates intelligence. It is the finite amount of energy that constrains the deeds of mankind, and it is the almost infinite amount of confusion in communication between mankind that frustrates the coordination of their actions.

So one may revel in the perfection of a single monastery animated and sustained as an ideal instantiation of an ideal concept. But you have as much chance of the world being rebuilt based on that concept as the world has had in applying Newton's Second Law. Hundreds of years in establishing the coordination, creating and sustaining the institution and keeping the faith as every rocket explodes.

The ubiquity of cellphones has not created one world government. Instead it has proliferated the random. The task is always to overcome the constraints of limited energy, dissonant communication, and generational institutional sustainability. It's the same with the very Word of God and the Laws of the Universe.

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AI is like the perpetual motion machine--an impossibility.

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AI that takes over everything is a very high improbability. But you forget those people who are most frightened think of AI like the ancients thought of the Pope. If the wrong one gets in, it controls everything in Christendom and could destroy all civilization.

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I think the original Japanese Godzilla film, 'Gojira,' has an answer here. Some technologies are so dangerous that it would be better to avoid them altogether rather than having them come into wrong hands. That is Dr. Serizawa's dilemma in the film. He has discovered a chemical technology that may be powerful enough to destroy Gojira, but he is tortured by a fear of communicating his discovery because of its potential use in future human warfare (recall that the movie was made only a few years after the A-bomb drops). He does eventually find a way out of this dilemma, but it's not a happy one.

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Christians operate in the world of the Fall. They don't operate on some utopian world, where things can be used willy nilly just for good because everyone is perfect. Things shape us, and (literally or metaphorically, whatever you prefer) things can be devised by and cooperate with the devil. And when we enable them and spread them, we influence others to participate in this badness.

In the same vein (substituting technology for wealth), Christ could have said "Being rich is as good as being poor, just use your wealth for good".

But instead he said "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God".

That is, the mere possibility of being rich and good is not enough to absolve wealth (to "just be rich and use wealth wisely"), it's also about how remote it is, and in which way some things tend to influence us towards (as evident by how we usually use them). Being rich tends to make us cold, greedy, hungry for power, and so on. Similarly certain technologies have their own non-neutral agendas (not saying that the technologies have agency, but that those that create, shape, and sell them have their agendas, and that certain technologies by their own nature alone push us to specific patterns of use. The development of cars for example, shaped cities and suburbs built after their widespread availability a certain way).

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Apr 26, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

this is a perfect analogy... the "just use your excess wealth for good" line. It is pretty hard to convince Christians I know of that fallacy too.

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I think the analogy of the internet/tech to a car might be more appropriate than to a hammer. I use a car occasionally because it has become necessary to function in my society (at least, while living out in a rural area). Yet, I believe the speed of motion and the power an automobile gives me are intrinsically negative - the car always ends up lessening my connection to the created order and to the natural limits of being human. I can use the car to do good things (acquire food, visit a lonely friend, attend church, etc), but the very act of its use is inherently damaging to my soul, on some level. I might decide it's worth the damage, and even use the car to accomplish redemptive tasks, but that doesn't change the harm that it does.

For what it's worth, if I could change the world at will, I would unhesitatingly get rid of all the cell phones and all of the automobiles, and keep the hammers.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023

A car can be seductive, in that the more one uses it, the more one tends to use it. Healthy people can have their edifying experiences of life - walking, exulting in fresh air and sunshine, or in a rainstorm - if they have the least self awareness and self - discipline: Leave the car at home, and, in the best sense, take a hike.

But what about the disabled? They tend not to have a lot of patience with such a martial view of things. They also tend to regard the Internet as a blessing in a way which the healthy can't imagine.

I'm constantly being encouraged by some Internet pimp to get to know a CHATbot. It isn't going to happen.

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To limit it to being 'a material thing' is to buy into the neutrality that you (rightly) criticise. To conceive instead of the technium as a principality and power is to bring it into the realm of redemption. In other words, taking it spiritually seriously - as you are doing - we need to ponder what God might be doing with it all. I'm fond of something that Wittgenstein said, which I often deploy for my own purposes: "for a mistake, that's too big". Two other thoughts: 1) the Christian tradition is all about elevating the material, allowing it to become the bearer of holiness (incarnation and sacraments) - perhaps my question is, how can we use technology in an incarnational way? For that is the path of its redemption. 2) A speculative thought, but I wonder how far you might still be (unconsciously) relying on an atheistic (absent God) framework? For me AI etc is a tower of Babel as well as a golden calf. I expect it to collapse, and great shall be its falling - and then out of that, God might bring new things to be born. My pessimistic intellect ponders how many of us will survive the transition; my optimistic will resolves to "save as many as you can" - as Ian Holm put it in the one great moment from a not very good film.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023Author

That's a fair point. But if we take it spiritually seriously, how can we tell whether it is the work of God, or of the adversary? What are your thoughts? Aren't BlessU-2 and SanTo and all the rest an attempt to 'use technology in an incarnational way'? It's creators seem to argue that it is.

As I say, I am shrinking instinctively from this notion. Its logic surely would lead to a post-human priesthood. What are your thoughts on where lines should be drawn?

But yes, the other possibility is that this is the new Babel. That seems convicing too.

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I think you are right to point to the Amish as exemplars of the way to follow (do read the Brende book, it's excellent). Essentially they take time to assess any new technology by the standard of whether it will enable the community to flourish. In other words they have a clear sense of the good against which they measure each innovation, and they take their time to come to a decision about it as a community - sometimes they trial a technology for a while to observe the impact. So with the telephone, what they have ended up with are 'common phones' (think like the red phone boxes in the UK) that anyone can use, but not private ones in homes. That's if memory serves me well. So they have access to the technology, but it is in a form that doesn't destroy the existing community and, in particular, the existing relationships between the members of the community.

So I think what is most missing from our present society - and the reason why the technium is a run-away express train causing havoc and disarray - is because we no longer have a sense of the common good (MacIntyre's critique). Without a sense of the common good the technium is unimpeded. I expect that there will need to be a 'common bad' (ie a disaster like Babel) before people can come together around a common good again.

As for Bless-U-2 and similar - lol! To use McGilchrist's language, which is on my mind at the moment, all of that is left-hemisphere product (the emissary). God is accessed through our right hemisphere (Master). That isn't to say that they can't be useful as robot-helpers (eg some forms of teaching) but the actual creative human interaction which is the essence of liturgical priesthood - I think that such a thing is literally impossible to embody in technological form.

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What’s the Brende book on the Amish?

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'better off' by Eric Brende

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The tower of Babel does not fall. Man abandons work on it, because he has been dispersed ; his universal aspirations have been dispersed, and the tower can not be continued... at least temporarily ? The dispersal comes from within language itself, as Genesis points out, since the words and the way they go together no longer create community, and a community of understanding between us. That means social collapse. For my part, I can already see the social collapse around me.

It is a mystery to me how what builds the universal and what disperses it interact to push and pull us in opposite ? directions.

As for the work of God, or the work of the adversary, many years ago, after a breakdown, I realized intimately that the advantages have their disadvantages, and vice versa. The book of Job says "The Lord giveth and taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord." This is what Job says when everything is taken away from him. He doesn't say "the Lord gives and the devil takes away." This is very important, I feel. In the book of Job, the devil is an instrument, but his power is limited.

I like the idea of our being individually responsible for what we do with the technology, which is not neutral, of course. Recently I was introduced to someone over the Internet with whom I have started a correspondance on E-Mail. Now... I would like to find somebody IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD, with whom I can share a passion for orchids. Not somebody over Internet. And I try to limit my credit card use as much as possible. Little things. I'm sure that other people are doing little things too, like you say, Paul.

When you think about it, there are ideas behind everything that we do : prejudices, they are called, because we pre-judge our world. We may or may not be aware of them, but they are there, and they can be found, if we take the time to look for them. And to a certain extent, we can act accordingly.

These are very old problems that predate modern technology. They have been explored... by the Greeks themselves, way back when, and long before artificial intelligence.

Over thirty years ago, and before Internet, I watched my two year old son fall into the screen while watching a Disney animated film. It was a little bit like seeing Narcissus fall into the pond ? The moving pictures are a big temptation, but then the pictures have always been a big temptation.

A while ago on this site I said how surprised I was to see that we were talking together over many continents, when our lives on the ground, in our flesh and blood, could be quite different. Our social organisations could be quite different, but the universal ? words get in the way of our seeing that. Too bad. Just a small example : in the French republic, the French president does not have the same powers that the American one has. But we use the word "republic" in both cases...when what is behind is different.

And as for incarnation, I don't see how it is possible without FLESH and blood, just what the word itself says, and flesh and blood are living, whatever the robots may look like, whatever their appearance may be.

One of my last musings has been to ask whether life itself could get tired of living, and want it to end ? There's something to be said for the effects of getting tired.... in the long run.

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It does at least end, eventually, thank God (the confusion and fear)

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It’s not pessimism, it is an accurate assessment that the effect of technology is beyond our control and comprehension. This is the foundation of Marshall McLuhan’s contribution: technology, the extensions we create reorder our lives. The question of whether or not, we can moderate our extensions through technology is the enemy and needs be put aside once, and for all. That’s why the time magazine article reads so hollow. There is simply no way that rogue computing farms will be shutdown. We are leaves on the stream of our own inventions, deflecting our course is not available to us. Not available, resistance is futile, so with this understanding we can get around to the real business of comprehending; McLuhan, I think would be up in arms at the suggestion otherwise.

Charles Puguy

“ we must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.”

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Something that I instinctively struggle with but have had to come to terms with is the vision of the redeemed city in Revelation, replete with gemstones and walls. That doesn't mean that all tech can be redeemed, but there is something in the fact that as I've grown up terrorised on all sides by the screens, I've seen beautiful movies, made friends on the internet, even played video games that have changed my perspective for the better, and I can't ignore all that, as much as I also share your desire to smash it all up.

Ultimately, I come to the same conclusion as you do on the need to draw hard red lines and stick to them, with the expectation that it will probably push us out of mainstream society eventually, so this may all be a bit academic, but I guess I have a romantic attachment to the idea of, after the machine crashes and burns, we are perhaps able to pick up a computer with Windows 98 from the rubble and play Myst long into the evening.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023

We can repent and we can be redeemed, but we can't and won't be reformed until after the last trumpet sounds and the final judgment is over. That's where the Fundamentalists, the Modernists, and the materialists go wrong. The present world, civilized or not, has not and can not, over any amount of time, be improved. Evolution ain't happening.

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Is it just a material thing? Can only humans be redeemed ? I don't know. I can't find it now but I do remember one version of Christ's great commission was ( as was Buddha's 500 years earlier) to bring the good news to all of creation; including animals etc. But let's just say humans only. Perhaps the technetium will eventually take a biological human form as part of the big plan for it to do so, so that it can be redeemed? One Anthroposophist said this is why Ahriman has to take physical human form...... so that he can eventually be saved.

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Is it just a material thing? Do only human's require redemption? I don't know. In his great commission didn't Christ say to share the good news with all of creation? Buddha certainly did. Anthroposohist say that Ahriman has to incarnate into a human body otherwise he won't be able to be saved eventually. Buddhists teach that every being in the multiverses desires a human incarnation. Why? Because first humans are physically well endowed and secondly because human lives have just the right amount of adversity and opportunity for spiritual growth and realization. More so than even in the bliss filled heavenly realms or in the tortured hellish realms.

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Writing itself was a technological invention instigated by the complexities of empire. Centuries later, Plato still thought it was highly highly suspect & spiritually degenerate. The Hebrews took the technology of writing and built the Torah -- take that, writing!!

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But that's a hard distinction to make. The Abbey of Misrule is one of our apogees of the creative mind, yet at bottom it uses technology originally devised for surviving (or assisting?) nuclear war.

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Yes, of course. It's the same with me as a reader.

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The problem is that when we follow the trails back, as you say, all technology is suspect. And yet it traps us. I wrote a whole book on writing as a trap. Yet here I am, still writing. This is why drawing the lines seems so important.

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Yes, exactly -- it's exactly as you said in "Planting Trees in the Anthropocene" re: Kevin Kelly, comparing the keyboard and the spade, which both exist on the continuum of technology, separated by a few degrees: "But the degrees matter – and so does the intent." A line must be drawn, and slashing a timeline is one way to do it, e.g. "I won't use anything invented after 1958." And that is far, far better than not drawing a line. But a line that gets into the heart is far better -- your connection to asceticism here is very helpful in that regards!

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Also -- perhaps a parallel phenomenon to the Hebrew subversion of writing was our Christian subversion of iconography (a technology that was being used at the dawn of Christianity as a projection of the emperor's power). What I'm trying to say is: We can have a stance towards technology that is not just "accept" or "reject," as if technology is just an external given -- there is a third choice, which is "subvert" ... though things may be moving too quickly now to ever do that wisely.

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I'm working on an essay which attempts to make a fairly firm distinction between technology as good and technology as problematic. I have a theoretical line which I have at least tested out in some early discussions and which is still standing. I'm eager to see how it might stand up to a broader audience.

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Well, Plato was on to something.

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Not to forget that the 22 letters of the Hebraic alphabet are, for some great Jewish mystics, the very means by which Yah built the entire World.

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Yes, Pirsig. I was delighted to see you drop his name here because he also popped into my head while I was reading Paul’s fine essay. I don’t remember the precise quote, but to paraphrase him, “the Buddha dwells just as easily in electrodes as he does in mountain waterfalls.” Maybe the theology/worldview (Buddhist and Christian) is the difference, but Buddhism also has an ‘adversary’ in the figure of Mara, but it is a mistake to equate Mara with Satan, or Buddha with Christ, for that matter. However, both Satan and Mara are seen as deceivers, so there is some crossover. Much to ponder here for me.

I do like your take, Sam, in your next statement re: Babel and the fall this new ‘tower’ will ultimately take. The destruction will be great, but I feel like this AI situation is simply the endgame of the inevitable we (I) have been staring into since birth. Mary Shelley saw it two centuries ago, for goodness sake.

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I am no expert on Buddhism, though I did study some of the key texts when I was practicing Zen/Chan years back. But Buddhism is less 'dualistic' than, say, Christianity. Usually these days this is held up as a good thing, 'dualism' being bad, but it may not be. If spirit and matter do not exist as such - which to a Buddhist they don't, really - then anything can indeed have 'Buddha nature.' It's what defenders of Mindar say, if you read the linked piece. There is no reason in Buddhism to distinguish between an electrode and a waterfall. That's one reason I am no longer practicing Buddhism.

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Apr 26, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Right -- we panentheists need to be on guard against pantheism. Or as D.B. Hart put it somewhere, we can't view grace as working like karma.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

These kinds of protestant "paradoxes" don't work on the Orthodox church. It's not about some cheap logical consistency, as if God is an axiom.

Besides, there is an area beyond the reach of God: God willingly let human free will out of his control. That's the will of the same humans who make and shape the technology - for specific purposes, and sell it to you as a package deal.

Might as well ask whether genocide, rape, or, say, egoism can be redeemed (not as in forgiving those who commited it after they have repented, but redeemed into being good things themselves and used for good), lest we let them outside "God's control".

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Sam , I like your question "can it be redeemed". I have been thinking along the same lines. I'd like to think that this is all part of God's loving plan to awaken , ripen and save humanity, that through our reflection and response to these challenges/ forces / intelligences we can grow.

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Either that or the devil's not-so-loving plan to take us finally away from the good. Remember who's the prince of this world ...

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Apr 27, 2023·edited Apr 27, 2023

Ha ha good point but who is in charge of the multiverse and is all knowing, all seeing and pretty dog gone smart 🤔? Who made the devil in the first place ? Who turned him loose on us ? Who hopefully has a happy ending in the works, not just for the few?

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Um... we can't be finally taken away from the good. The devil lost. Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

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Question: Can we fall again? Is the fall an unfolding event or a one time event? Can we follow the Anti-Christ away from God? Can we walk away from God at all?

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Was the tower of Babel redeemed?

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This is great. Every time I read your stuff I’m motivated more and more to do away with all this tech. I’m working on it at home. Unfortunately I work in education, where the infatuation with computers and all the “good things they do for kids” is a deeply held conviction, almost on the level of a religious belief. I do what I can in making everything as non-Machine based as possible, but it is difficult.

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BL, I used to teach in a wilderness therapy program / residential for mentally ill & drug addicted gang kids, who like everyone were screen-addicted, too. Once I scraped together like 10 or 12 old school typewriters for the boys -- old Smith Coronas, etc -- and got them into banging out poetry on them. Man, they LOVED the mechanical action. Deep beneath the haze, everyone still loves hard and loud matter & the ye ol' 3 dimensions instead of the ubiquitous flattening to 2...

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That’s awesome. Maybe I’ll request 30 typewriters for my classroom. The noise would be great, as would the looks from the administrators and other staff members.

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I just read that C.S. Lewis didn’t like typewriters because they interrupted the rhythm of writing. He said some such beautiful thing, and then further inspection revealed that he wrote, longhand, with a dip pen, apparently so that he’d have time to speak the words as he was writing.

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B.L. I recommend the book "Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology is Making Our Kids Dumber," by Joe Clement and Matt Miles for inspiration. The cover design is great: an apple smashing the screen of an iPad. 😂

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I am putting my kid in a classical school that uses zero technology. They have oral exams! I am not convinced that computers do anything good for kids.

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As another new Orthodox Christian, I would have been equally distressed by seeing an Athonite monk whip out a smartphone. Yikes. But did you have a chance to ask him his thoughts on the smartphone's role in the life of a monk? I wonder if sometimes we're too jaded about the role of technology in our society. Perhaps the Athonite monks have found an Amish-like way to very selectively integrate the useful and reject the damaging.

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Apr 26, 2023·edited Apr 26, 2023Author

I didn't have the chance or the confidence (or the Greek!) to ask. But I have talked about this with monks in Romania (who also have phones ...) Like some people on here, they used them for limited purposes (I doubt they were on TikTok) and they believed they could be used for the good.

The question for me is why anyone who has 'fled the world' would want to take something with him which connects him to it in this way. I am not a monk, so in one sense it's not my business. But as I say, it's a dismal sight.

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It's a good question and I couldn't possibly answer for the monks. I can only speculate that maybe they see smartphones as the modern way to write letters. Monks in prior centuries would flee the world of course, but would receive and write letters with those still in it. This connection was invaluable for injecting their wisdom back out into the world.

I'd love to see you discuss this with an Orthodox priest or monk on a podcast by the way!

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When you're such a fan of integrity no doubt a monk staring at a screen feels a little like 'cheating'. How can one truly contemplate the Lord when so (potentially) distracted.

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Not taking the Jab made me stronger and more awake also, but it took me to the very limits of my sanity and place me at the margins of society and employment.

I wonder how I will keep my sanity next time, when there is another ‘line in the sand’ moment involving AI and it’s acolytes.

One can only pray and hold onto truth as best as they can

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Yes, that is the question, and it's why I'm thinking more and more about the need for 'raw' communities. The Amish make more sense by the day.

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In my experience it also doesn't take than many people to create a vibrant counter-cultural community where there is mutual support and a significant oasis from the storms of the mainstream. 5 or so people living together can be enough to make this stance much easier to sustain.

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May 4, 2023Liked by Paul Kingsnorth

Here in a waterfall valley in Portugal we have been trying to draw the line in a loose community of 8 nationalities and 25 or so families living our own way, different religious views , family habits but united since covid in finding a safe education for our kids- 40 kids learn technology free, even the teens, no smart phones, Internet hardly creeps round the large granite rock that protects the Riverside hamlet, children build their own cob building and they get equal credits for building a compost loo as serious academics...each week we do enquiry time, essays are hand written, children just sit in nature, and our policy states we are anti AI. But at the same time we live in the world, hold down normal jobs, dont all wear tie dye, and embrace our tech friends too, this helps us sustain the lines we draw as complete askesis will drive our kids away. Each week families flood to join and no doubt they will set up similar schools when ours is full and the speed of growth is bewildering even tiring ...but the reward is great.

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The thought on how we might not even know we are using AI is a really interesting one, as is your observation of how far smartphones have penetrated into realms of society that should be antithetical.

I find it fascinating how even deep in the Amazon you have tribes folk who have access to smartphones. The invasive nature of this technology is akin to an invasive species which rapidly spreads through a habitat and modifies the habitat so that the habitat becomes more hospitable and better tailored to the invasive species. We see the same invasive dynamic with the smartphone to be sure. And in the same way that we can't rely on the natural habitat to remove an invasive species - human management is required - the drawing of lines (human management) is required to remove/manage the smartphone.

(disclaimer I (limitedly) use a smartphone)

Your likening of the smartphone to a drug is also really worth pondering. The smartphone could be described as the 'ultimate' drug: highly addictive with the most powerful algorithms driving this addiction. Additionally, smartphones provide quick bursts of intense pleasure; pseudo-community (social media); immense power (with one tweet or one message one could send shockwaves through society); and self-promotion (selfies, etc). Perhaps smartphones should come with a health warning stuck to their backs like a cigarette packet does!

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An invasive species is a really good comparison.

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I respectfully disagree. "Invasive" species are natural plant, insects, and animals that have been moved by humans into places where humans have already disturbed the ecology and the newcomers thrive or outcompete previously established species. The humans possess all the invading power and the plant bears all the blame. In my town the local conservation groups go around rallying people to use herbicide on "invasives" as a necessary evil and feel very righteous about it. I think it relates to a human need to control things in the face of not being able to control ongoing over-development here. On the national level the designation of "invasive" was a strategic thing that helped to sell herbicide to groups like the Nature Conservancy on a massive scale... designating a new enemy we could fight with our technology. Before that these plants were called "naturalized".

Sorry to go on a tangent but I hate to see people blaming plants, or comparing them to the evils of internet technology. In many cases where soil is degraded, watersheds are disturbed, and other changes have happened the invasive plants are the only thing that can thrive. I learned about this from Tao Orion's book, Beyond the War on Invasive Species. I also harvest many invasive plants (and crabs) for use for food, fiber, fuel, and fragrance. In a time of ecological breakdown invasive species might be the only plants that are willing and able to grow in our man-made mess.

https://www.resilience.org/resources/beyond-the-war-on-invasive-species/

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Apr 27, 2023·edited Apr 27, 2023Author

I recently watched a very good (and very funny) film about cane toads destroying Australia. The 'invasive' species is indeed not to blame for its actions. The toad is just being a toad. Humans brought the toads along, to compensate for their previous mistake of growing cane in the wrong environment. It's the progress trap in action.

Still, the comparison is good in the sense that something in the wrong environment, with no natural checks, will run rampant and destroy the place. I'd say the technium is doing that as effectively as a cane toad.

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Two of Wendell Berry ‘s essay collections that sharpened my social/cultural criticism were “What Are People For?”, which was published in 1990, and “Standing by Words”, published in 1982. This second collection’s seminal piece was his critique of the Three Mile Island Nuclear facility incident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Berry’s concern was the failure of the local, state, and federal officials failure to provide an honest assessment of the seriousness of the incident. News briefs and public statements were obtuse and coded in a way to allay people’s fear. I guess the overused term today is “transparency”. That was the post-Vietnam era where young people now were questioning our government’s relationship (the Nuclear Regulatory Agency) with the nuclear energy industry. There was a lot of distrust and fear that came out of that incident. I remember looking at maps of the blast zone (I lived outside Washington, D.C.) recognizing I could have been “toast” like so many others.

Here we are 50 years later having the same discussions about a technology and whether it is serving the good for humanity or something other. Oh, I am still not a proponent of nuclear energy. In 1995, I lived in a small Massachusetts town called Rowe and watched the last remnants of a decommissioned nuclear power facility be carted away in a procession of tractor trailers. I slept well that night.

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I once saw a Buddhist monk in Bhutan pull out a smartphone (and this was 15 years ago) and I was not shocked because he was so obviously connected with other beings, human and otherwise. He offered our small group refreshments, and then went back to his solo mountan vigil. The problem of the religious believer is the terrible collision of the sacred and the products of the Machine. For the non-believer this is less of a problem, because the machine (intentional small m) only tries to disconnect her from the natural world, and this is easily resisted if the love of the natural world is strong enough, and the horror of the machine truly appreciated.

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In an essay by Mary Harrington I commented that I don’t think we are as far along in The Passion as she suspects. I suggested we might be found at the 8th station Jesus meets the women. But your essay has me thinking we might be at the 5th Simon of Cyrene hells Jesus carry His Cross.

Often I’ve listened to secular minded people who seem to be warning us and attempting to prepare us for the evils that await us due to technology and thought “what an unlikely ally”. I see these unlikely folks as Simons of Cyrene. They never wanted to be involved in spiritual battle. They’re unsure how they’ve come to see the existential threats of our modern road towards Calvary but they see where we are headed and they are now forced to help.

We should always be open to any and all who would help us carry this cross. We should share the weight with them because we need their help but more importantly because in carrying it together they might see the cross with new eyes.

We must pray to Saint Simon of Cyrene and ask him for his prayers and help in this process.

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"The Internet is not alive; the Internet is simply us."

What if both are true? And what is "us"?

I think that we have, in losing a sense of the Fall, become ignorant of what we are. For example, I am personally acquainted with people from three different families where sexual abuse of children by their fathers occurred. Three! I met none of these people in a professional setting, just random meetings at college and an adoption support group. One of the three does meet other victims, and she tells me that this is epidemic.

If the internet is "demonic", figuratively, literally, otherwise, perhaps it is because "we" are.

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I think you’re onto something here if the Internet is simply “us“ then it cannot be redeemed apart from us. The only way we can redeem technology is for every individual to seek redemption for him or herself. Our technologies are a reflection of our own holiness or lack of it, and we are not a holy people we are a sinful evil people, so our technology is evil as well.

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Exactly! I thought some more about this after I posted my first comment. Redemption and theosis requires that we 'leave behind' some rather negative aspects of ourselves. But if we get uploaded to Alexandria (Paul's ultimate internet server) without leaving those aspects behind, then we will find that Alexandria is really Hell, unless Alexandria has algorithms to delete those aspects. It would seem that people who aspire to a silicon eternity can escape eternal torment only by a cheap deletion of the aspects of their humanity that they won't do for themselves the hard way, the way that also builds some very positive aspects of human character.

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There is an element of truth to this, but it always seems a bit of a cop-out to me to blame everything on "human failure" or "original sin." While true, it only goes so far, like blaming the Johnstown Flood on the fact that water always runs downhill.

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Of course. Part of my comment is directed at the kind of human ignorance that causes us to forget that water has great force and always runs downhill.

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This position - that AI et al is not a foreign spirit which inhabits technology rather it is a reflection of ourselves.... I’ve been seeking more clarity on that front.

I found this interview of tech nerd Jarod Lanier and I’m open to considering that AI (chat gpt etc) aren’t “possessed” by a demonic force but that they just might be reflecting a demonic force which to varying degrees we invite through our own free wills into the world we inhabit.

https://youtu.be/qjki5Y7Y7Uw

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Well, yes. Your comment’s conclusion is closer to what I was thinking than the idea it is simply “possessed.” I wasn’t sure where my thinking should lead, which is why I wrote “figuratively, literally, otherwise.” All I know is that if our machines can mimic our thoughts then their mimicry will include our baser uglier thoughts.

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My spiritual guide has said, "we are capable of creating anything, but not always to our blessing." To me Blessing simply means, something that connects me to spirit and when connected to spirit, experiencing reverence. Tempering all choices in life through this lens provides me with a realistic assessment of whatever I choose to engage with and in. Thank you Paul for reminding us of how "we make the temple a den of thieves", when we forget the meaning of Blessing. Sagewalker

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I constantly tell my wife and children about my fantasy to take all the smartphones in our home and smash them with a giant sledgehammer.

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One English journalist, Rod Liddle, tells of the time he was having a conversation with his wife at home - only to find on returning to his computer that ads for the very thing they’d been discussing started popping up for him. That very moment he took his Alexa out into the garden and hammered it to pieces. Infernal gadget.

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I read an interesting essay last night that asks the question (among others): Is the internet a mind reader? The essay is written in stream-of-consciousness and disturbingly exemplifies how the internet re-orders are thinking and perceptions. Here is the essay: https://slate.com/human-interest/2023/04/phone-listening-recording-loneliness-online-dating.html

Someone in the comments above (Diamond Boy, I think) said that we must see what we see. The danger of the internet is that it is making us all think the same. It is shutting down creativity. In one of Alan Jacob's recent newsletters, he linked an eye-opening article called "Everything Everywhere Looks The Same": https://www.alexmurrell.co.uk/articles/the-age-of-average?utm_source=ayjay&utm_medium=email

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"our" thinking. : )

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I really, really, really enjoyed that mind-reading essay. Great link; thanks for sharing. I’ve experienced a lot of the disturbing phenomena the author describes.

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My apologies, the name of the article Alan Jacob's shared in his newsletter is "The Age of Average". : ) The link is correct.

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founding

I liked Rod Liddle when I was reading him...

The idea of the ads popping up for you is a sneaky form of hell, after all. Where there is always someone or something waiting in a corner to "make your dream come true".

Kinda slick, right ?

I know that Julius Caesar was contemptuous of the merchants and their inevitable pandering. He preferred... a military culture. For sure, a military culture, and particularly the Roman one, cultivated asceticism, and self discipline. You can't have good soldiers if your men are incapable of self discipline. And you can't have good soldiers if they allow themselves (or YOU allow them) to go on a rampage and start raping women and children when the pressure of the fight lets up.

I like to think that maybe you can... sell without selling your soul ? Couldn't it be possible ? Couldn't we work on that a little bit ?

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It wouldn’t work, Debra. The entire dynamic of the commercial world is, irresistibly: as much as possible this year, and more next year. Next year’s sales targets only ever go up, unless there are drastic economic conditions, and even then they might be held at the same level as this year’s. Prices only ever go up. If more isn’t sold next year over this year, if revenue doesn’t go up, it’s regarded as a real failure, much as death is regarded as failure by the medical profession. And this mindset attracts the kind of people who want to get involved in this kind of mindset, reinforcing the feedback loop. There is no reverse gear. Governments are happy with this because it increases tax revenues.

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But Jules... I am a natural publicist ! I tend to tell people about things I like, and you too, no ?

Prices keep going up because WE feel down, and need to pull ourselves... up.

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