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Personal Computing Enters World Of The Spirit

News Nots Written by Timons Esaias

Cyberpunk novels have hinted at ghosts and voodoo spirits in computer networks, and the names of various programs have suggested the summoning of daemons, but for the most part the world of computers has remained a godless, mechanistic landscape devoid of a spiritual dimension. Until recently.

"An early sign of change was the prayer-wheel subroutines in Buddhist software," says Iggy Loyal, designer of Whozdat?(TM) the artificial intelligence detector that keeps a careful eye out for ghosts in the machine. "These prayer wheels 'turn' in a corner of the screen while the computer is running. According to some Lamas, the accumulated prayers generated by these programs are quickly bringing the world to the edge of Nirvana." Popular in Asia, and especially Japan, the recent availability of cheap Tibetan screensavers is spreading this prayerful mechanism to Western computers.

Windows 95(TM) is now offered in Hindu and Zoroastrian versions that don't just delete files, but sacrifice them to Agni (Ahura Mazda in the Zoroastrian operating system) on a small fiery altar. These versions also "redirect on-line 'flames' to a positive spiritual use", according to Microsoft's Office of Non-Western Consumer Affairs. (In the Windows 95(TM) the file is represented by a small scroll that is burned in the delete icon window. A competing Apple product, due out next month, is expected to include more complex graphics, including votive priests engaged in appropriate rituals.)

Other major religions are making an impact in the computer world, as well. The Vatican's recent designation of St. Cyriacus-of-the- Seventh-Milestone as the official "Patron Saint of Personal Computers" is seen by many observers as another sign that the Catholic Church intends to avoid an embarrassing repeat of the Galileo fiasco. "Holy Mother Church is following up on their 1989 declaration of St. Expeditus as Patron of Microprocessors," said the Office of the Congregation of the Encryption of the Faith (which handles all programming matters at the Holy See.) "The Church embraces computers as a tool that can free the faithful from drudgery and give them more time to explore their faith."

The Church has not, however, embraced the computerized rosary- telling devices sold by followers of the "Cupertino Movement" which supposedly tell the entire rosary four times a second. Similar in concept to the Buddhist prayer wheels, Roman Catholic theologians are divided on their potential efficacy. "Computerized devotions are not known to have a clear spiritual benefit," observed one scholar, "but the idea deserves careful consideration."

Protestants aren't being left behind in the realm of religious computerization. Johncalvin 1,2,3(TM) will keep track of your work ethic for you, by analyzing the efficiency of your daily computer usage and evaluating the quantity of your work product. (Negative points are scored for playing computer games, accessing Adult Bulletin Boards, or sending frivolous e-mail. Posture also counts.) With each new log on, the program displays your Probable Odds Of Joining The Elect. It also gives you those same little bits of encouragement your mother would, if only she were looking over your shoulder all day long.

"My favorite is 'I DON'T DETECT ANY TYPING' which always keeps me going," said Chastity Celtbane, who tested the software while working on her dissertation. "I also found the one that comes on if you try to log off, um, 'DO YOU REALLY DESERVE TO QUIT? [y,N]' very helpful." When installed in workplace networks, Johncalvin 1,2,3(TM) can be set to notify your supervisor should your output fall significantly below par. "This allows managers to detect negatively impacting employee personal problems before the worker is even aware of it themselves," said a spokesman, "and allows them to facilitate an early termination. Nothing is more demoralizing to a worker than to keep plugging away at a job, day after day, with average or even below average productivity."

Cybernetic spiritual awareness is not just a matter of adding software, according to Andrew Paxhola. "It is also important to become aware of the sacredness that is already there." Mr. Paxhola is working on a book that will study the icons that are currently in use in the computer industry, partly as a study of the history of pop culture but with special emphasis "on the deeper spiritual impact these important images contain. Computer icons are the modern world's form of prayer, allowing users access to greater realms of awareness; to the use of new powers; and, for those with modems, icons allow them to achieve the important spiritual goal of wider human connectivity!"

Along with the growing understanding of the religious importance of computers has come increasing concern about the inadvertent negative impact their use may entail. The Society for the Prevention of Demonic Incantation has been waging a long, lonely struggle for years against the use of 666 and other dangerous numbers in calculators and cash registers. "Satan and his minions are allowed access to the upper world every time these magical numbers are printed out", said the Society's General Secretary, Adrian Leverkuhn. "Mankind has been going to Hell in a hand basket ever since the cash register was patented. We have tried to get the people at NCR to arrange for a substitute symbol, preferably something like LOVE, for the offending numbers but they refuse to listen." Major manufacturers of calculators have been similarly unresponsive.

The Society has made more progress with Intel, which is considering a "666 suppression design" for future models of the Pentium chip. "They are sensitive to the fact that summoning Satan may not be in their best interest", says Leverkuhn.

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