In the distant days before iPhones, we didn’t have much choice! The perfect picture we took during a family vacation showed more than we expected. The big-as-life billboard we did not notice ruined an otherwise perfect photo. Once back home there was little we could do to edit out what didn’t fit.

Today, most iPhone users know how to edit out the offending content. (Or they know a young person with flying fingers who makes the offensive object disappear.)

In this Vincentian Mindwalk explore with me how we edit out realities that disturb us.

First, a bit of high-tech fantasy

The Daily Squib, a British satire site reports

Revolutionary tech startup has designed glasses that edit out poor people and their surroundings. The glasses will only be accessible to the rich.

There’s nothing worse for rich people who have to sometimes pass through areas of a city or countryside only to be confronted with unsightly poor people going about their business or rioting in the streets.

… this tech company from Paris, France has come up with digital eyewear that simply edits out undesirables… as well as ugly poverty ridden surroundings.

The glasses are so sophisticated that they even have sensitive smell sensors embedded on the frame, and can detect a poor person from over 100 yards.

Ouch! A satire, perhaps too close to reality!

“Old school” ways of editing reality

Vincent tells the story of a handkerchief as a tool for blocking out reality.

As the story goes, Vincent is with a nobleman above the deck where galley slaves are whipped to pull together on oars powering the ship. The rich man wears a handkerchief to block the stench of their sweat.

Vincent refuses. The reality moved him deeply. He became the champion of these poor prisoners.

Jesus, much earlier tells the story of a beggar sitting at a rich man’s door. It’s the story in chapter 16 of Luke’s gospel about the rich man and Lazarus the beggar sitting at the rich man’s gate.

The rich man found ways to cancel him out of the picture. The beggar did not fit into his vision of the way reality should be.

Mark has Jesus reinforcing the word of Isaiah “Seeing they did not see” 

Recognizing how we edit information

Today we call “editing out” biases. There are all too many variations.

Returning to the fictitious eyeglass story…

It highlights what scholars see as several common forms of bias.

See, I’m right. The wearers of EliteVision glasses had a preexisting belief that poverty was something to be avoided or ignored. The glasses confirmed their biased view by actively eliminating any visual evidence that challenged their perception.

Not seeing the whole story. The glasses selectively chose what the wearers would see and what would be filtered out. They presented a narrow, distorted reality by excluding the presence of poor people. This reinforces the wearers’ preconceived notions and isolates them from experiences they did not want to see.

Everybody agrees with me. The glasses catered to people who had not experienced poverty. By providing such a tool the glasses perpetuated a biased representation of society.

Before we get lost in theory…

Here are some observations… that lead to questions.

  • Do we tend to associate mainly with those who look and think like ourselves?
  • Does our reading and the news sources we rely on focus only on what reinforces our existing worldview?
  • Do we listen defensively, barely waiting for an opportunity to argue the next “What about…?”

Can we risk asking ourselves whether we see the big picture?

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk