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Luke Skywalker: Digital Minimalist

I recently returned to a book I first discovered earlier in the pandemic: The Power of Myth. It consists almost entirely of edited interview transcripts from a now classic, wide-ranging filmed conversation between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, which originally spanned over twenty hours of footage, but was later narrowed down to a handful of 60-minute episodes that aired on PBS in 1988.

You’ve probably heard of this interview as it went on to become one of the most watched series in public television history. Though it covers a dizzyingly diverse set of topics — from dragons, to Gaia, to religious fundamentalism — it attracted attention at the time in large part because George Lucas had previously admitted to referencing Campbell’s 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, to help write the script for Star Wars.

Accordingly, the bulk of the interview is conducted at Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch, and Moyers and Campbell eventually come around to obligingly unpacking the role of the Hero’s Journey monomyth in explaining the resonance of Lucas’s 1977 blockbuster.

What caught my attention, however, was a brief aside about Star Wars that I don’t remember from the original PBS special. Near the end of interview, Moyers recalls:

“When I took our two sons to see Star Wars, they did the same thing the audience did at that moment when the voice of Ben Kenobi says to Skywalker in the climatic moment of the last fight, ‘Turn off your computer, turn off your machine and do it yourself, follow your feelings, trust your feelings.’ And when he did, he achieved success, and the audience broke out into applause.”

What interested me about this observation was not just that digital minimalists existed even in a galaxy far, far away, but that right here on our home planet, as earlier as the 1970s, we already sensed that there was something dehumanizing about the newly emerging industry of interactive digital technology.

We often need these tools, of course, to metaphorically blow up our Death Stars, but we applaud the loudest when it’s what makes us most human that triumphs in the end.

12 thoughts on “Luke Skywalker: Digital Minimalist”

  1. I’m sure you’ve read a lot of Matthew B. Crawford’s work, but this made me think about the forced helplessness that machine dependence creates in a lot of us. When we get used to technology doing certain things for us, our skills and agency atrophy. I drive some of the same routes over and over, but the maps app on my phone has me trusting myself less to get to where I’m going, or even silly little things like the automated faucets in public restrooms. If that doesn’t work or doesn’t work the way I need it to, I have no way of getting the water to come out.

    • This is quite true. I recently (two years) moved to a new city and found myself surprised at how long it was taking me to get to know the lay of the land navigation wise. Sure enough, when I stopped relying so much on Google Maps to direct me everywhere, this sense of situational awareness quickly returned. There is certainly a balance to be struck between convenience and long term development.

  2. Of course, what Hollyweird gives with one hand, it takes away with the other, as Star Wars, and especially its sequels (in the real-life chronological sense) are overloaded with technology.

  3. I’ve been re-reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ which was first published in 1974, and I’m finding a lot of similar threads of thought. There are multiple chapters devoted to our relationship with our relationship with technology and how it is not inherently bad, but if we become disconnected and don’t deeply care about it, it no longer serves us.

  4. “Technology… the knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” Max Frisch. Homo Faber

  5. Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology–also from long ago and far away (in this case, 1990)–speaks beautifully to these points.

  6. The art of writing in this piece really inspired me. It is such a creative way to get across your ongoing conversation about digital minimalism and reminds me to teach and write looking for the interesting overlaps. Thanks Cal!

  7. I feel if any of the other X Wing fighters had an inner voice telling them to turn off there technologies and trust themselves, disaster would be mere seconds behind?.
    It is definitely preferable to have some sort of Jedi master guiding you along a path. And then external implements won’t be as necessary.
    Guess you’re our Obi Wan Cal!! ??

  8. I was listening to a podcast recently and it was taking about the creator of cash points opinion of his device and he avoided using them. There are studies that back him up in that every time you chose the machine for speed over the human for interaction you are damaging your mental health and it gets worse the less of those interactions you have.
    We are social animals who are day by day removing the social aspect from our life’s.


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