Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What’s Really Real?

Written by: on November 18, 2021

In my jet-lagged state of being tired but unable to sleep or focus on anything more substantive, I have watched a few movies. Two, serendipitously, have resonated with the themes explored by Akiko Busch in her book, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. In The Mitchells Vs. The Machines (2021), the self-described weird Mitchell family stumbles into an apocalyptic fight against artificial intelligence (AI) taking over planet earth and seeking to eliminate human beings. It brought instantly to my mind Busch’s litany of household appliances equipped with increasingly sophisticated AI capacities that translate into the threat of a surveillance state and the violation of privacy—privacy willingly given away for the sake of increased convenience.[1] In He’s All That (2021), main character Padgett Sawyer gains her sense of identity and future security as a teen social media influencer. Her entire life is publicly visible until a relationship crisis forces her to reevaluate and begin to claim some private, interior space. Her character embodies the visibility that Busch describes as “…the self-promotion, personal branding, and ability to create and cultivate assorted profiles—consumer, social, political, professional—on social media that are viewed as valued, indeed essential, commodities.”[2] All the while, school principal Bosch serves as the voice crying in the digital wilderness, calling students to be present to the dance happening right in front of them rather than watching it on TikTok, begging the question: what is really real to people who have different experiences and exposure to current and emerging technologies? This blurring of physical and digital realities is another facet of the visible/invisible tension explored by Busch in How to Disappear.[3]

I found it challenging to classify How to Disappear. The Library of Congress lists it as a Physics text focused on Optics/Light under the Science Classification. It is true that Busch references these elements of physics as she poetically describes the light spectrum in her Introduction or discusses the physical realness of invisibility.[4] But she also references psychoanalysis, children’s literature, neurobiology, and the wonders of the animal kingdom and natural world, amongst other genres. She states, “…my hope is to compile a field guide to invisibility, one to reacquaint us with the possibilities of the unseen world, to reimagine and reengineer our place in it with greater engagement and creative participation.”[5] Her stated aim points me more in the direction of the social sciences because she hopes to equip readers with a new or renewed set of tools for navigating the unseen world of our interior lives lived out in both the digital and natural world contexts and the relationships developed in those divergent spaces. Busch writes lyrical, poetic prose to develop her field guide, essay by essay. Her reflections often feel as if I’m reading a memoir. I feel invited into her journey as she explores the tensions presented by the visible/invisible dimensions of contemporary life. Her vivid word pictures remind me that she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City.[6] So, perhaps this is more of a biographical memoir that references a range of other subject areas as she navigates the visible/invisible divide than solely an exploration of the physics of invisibility.

As Busch explores how we humans develop our capacity for navigating the invisible world, her emphasis on our private, interior selves versus what we reveal of ourselves to the outside world reminds me of Walker’s frontstage/backstage thesis. Busch brings a narrower focus to this topic, zeroing in on the need to develop a strong sense of self by staying “out of view when we need to.”[7] Her concern is that the ubiquitous presence of invasive technology and the drive to be visible at all times will diminish our capacity to truly develop a strong sense of self. Walker’s thesis is more deeply rooted in research and articulates the diverse frontstage/backstage personas that exist. He does not account for the formational role of technology in this tension.

Reading Busch leaves me acutely aware of how deeply impacting technology is and can be on our human development. As I examine issues related to social cohesion in my NPO, and focus on working with young people between the ages of 16-22, I will need to consider more fully the place and influence of both AI and social media technologies and how they shape perceptions and experiences of what is really real. While I didn’t particularly experience How to Disappear as a practical field guide to navigate this challenging world of present and emerging technologies, I did find that her subtitle, Notes on invisibility in a Time of Transparency, rang true. Her notes, in the form of lyrical essays, have given me much to mull-over as I continue my NPO development.


[1] Busch, Akiko. 2019. How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. New York: Penguin Press, 4-6.

[2] Ibid., 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 3, 50.

[5] Ibid., 20.

[6] Ibid., 1-3 for example.

[7] Ibid., 29.

About the Author

Elmarie Parker

13 responses to “What’s Really Real?”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    Mitchells Vs. The Machines is so good. And I agree with you that it rings true with Busch’s call to connect deeply with those in our life without the barrier of tech.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Elmarie, I also made the connection between Busch and Walker, though they come from different perspectives for sure. I believe Walker argued for balance and health between the front and backstage. Perhaps Busch argued for the same, but it felt much more skewed toward disconnecting rather than finding balance. It would be helpful to ask her some questions about her goal. Like you, my NPO relates to younger generations and the use of digital technologies. One of my fears surrounding my NPO is that I am a digital immigrant to that world. Will that generational difference play a positive or negative role? I’d be interested in any insights you gain along the way that help you develop your project.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Roy. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your insight on Walker’s focus on balance and Busch skewing to the backstage (so to speak). I share your concerns about being a digital immigrant (I appreciate that description…thank you). Even last night I was watching “Free Guy” with Scott and realized yet again that so much of that digital/virtual/physical interface is foreign to me but so natural to Gen Z especially. I have so much more to learn. I’ll look forward to hearing your insights as well.

  3. Elmarie, Mitchells vs. Machines is easily the best kids movie Netflix has put out in a while. Thanks for the smile. 🙂

    So far in your project/research, what is one discovery you’ve made about your NPO audience/population and social cohesion?

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Michael. Thanks for your question. One thing I’m seeing from the Lebanon side of my NPO audience is how strongly they connect valuing human dignity (which includes multiple dimensions of social justice) with experiencing social cohesion.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Elmarie: I also didn’t find Busch’s book to be a practical guide to navigate our modern world, but I did find it interesting. There are some insights I gleaned and she makes some interesting points. Your NPO might benefit from her writings, if only on the side.

  5. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Oh Elmaire…I continue to be impressed with your adaptability and functioning through all your transitions. Thank you for pointing out that Walker is coming from a research base while Busch focuses more on the practice of being invisibility.

  6. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Elmarie: I’m wondering if you had any thoughts on how social media and AI would be incorporated into your NPO prior to reading this week. If so, how has that changed after reading.

    • Elmarie Parker says:

      Hi Kayli. Thank you for this question. Up to the point of reading Busch, I had mostly been looking to social media platforms as a way to connect young adults from Lebanon and the USA in the focus of my NPO. After reading Busch, I need to also give thought to how these participants are being shaped by their interactions with social media and AI. I’d like create a space where they can reflect on this and grapple with the role social media and AI play in the dynamics of justice, equity, reconciliation, and perseverance in their particular contexts. Where does it help? Where does it create barriers or contribute to the challenges? How would they like to use it to facilitate justice, equity, reconciliation, and perseverance in their relationships and communities? Just some initial thoughts.

  7. mm Eric Basye says:

    Elmarie, I too found this book more challenging to classify, but I would certainly agree with where you landed, the social sciences.

    It was an interesting read for sure… the beginning was far more compelling than the meat of the book, at least to me. But I did find the overall theme of “invisibility” an important one, and the true sense of self (i.e. power) that is found in the invisible as well. While we may not like the word power, perhaps “influence” is a better word to communicate the same thing.

  8. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Eric, thank you for your comment. I really appreciate your focus on the overall theme of ‘invisibility’ and the location of personal power or influence arising from what is unseen or invisible. For me, your comment leads me back to the subject of character and how it is that character develops in us…also to your comments from last week about the role of suffering in the development of character. I find that our partners here in the Middle East are much more adept at understanding the formational aspects of suffering than we tend to be in a USA context–at least in a white, middle-class/upper class context. I really appreciated learning more about how your organization is taking up this theological piece and weaving it into not only your work, but also your self-understandings as a team and members of the team.

  9. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie I agree that this was more like a memoir of Busch’s journey as she struggled with the invisibility that enveloped her mom through Alzheimers. It seems Busch was wrestling with what happens to ones identity through the course of forced invisibility. I understand her disquietedness because I am watching my own mother disappear because of the disease.
    I can not remember what chapter it was but I remember writing a note about comparing what she was saying to the fact that so many mega churches are a “popular” way to do church…one can definitely be invisible there. I also pondered about if this is the reason people in general are not drawn to small churches…no way one can don an invisibility cloak. As you ponder that psychology in play here, what impact may there be in regard to social cohesion?

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