Lately, I have been reflecting not just on the value of the internet, but the value of technology in general. This has always been something that has been on my mind, but it was not given clarity until last year I read Neil Postman’s “Technopoly“. If you have not read it, I highly encourage you to. The book will challenge your approach to the world and technology.
Anyways, this “existential angst” over technology – as a friend recently put it to me – is something that is definitely experienced in my life. As I pick up my iPhone to check text messages, e-mail, facebook, twitter, etc: each time, I feel like I am obeying a master who has total and complete control in my life. This is partially because I have allowed the phone to have that sway over my life. But it’s not just the phone: it’s the internet, it’s the social-media, it’s even the e-mail. Everywhere I turn, I am surrounded by that which demands my time from me, asks me to surrender myself to it, and to give in completely to the ways of technology. However. The more technology has attempted to claim its sway over me, the greater there has been a desire to rebel and revolt over the great monolith that is technology. The more it imposes itself upon me, the more I want to scream in revolt: NO!
Thus, recently, I have attempted an experiment. I recently decided that, not only is Facebook a tool that demands far too much of my time, but, in the end, it really isn’t all that valuable. How many videos of laughing babies – as cute as they are! – do I need to see? How many memes do I need to see? Is my life fulfilled because now I have seen “S**t women say”? I think I will survive without these.
The initial post of “I’m leaving facebook” brought both public and private dissatisfaction with such a decision. And it was with those that the doubt started to seep in: “is this a good idea? Maybe I’m abandoning people? Am I perhaps offering something valuable with what I post on Facebook?” But then I said to myself: I don’t care, I can’t care. The time that will be freed up simply from abandoning Facebook will give me to actually, you know, engage with people face to face!
There is a deeper reason besides my natural desire to simply rebel at all that is put in front of me. I have been reflecting on the many discussions I have had on Facebook and have realized this: the internet is a horrible place to communicate. To have a “discussion” on Facebook, for example, is impossible. The medium demands succinctness. It doesn’t allow for subtlety, nuance, presuppositions to be declared, etc. In short: social media doesn’t allow for dialogue, it demands a screaming match.
Blogs, I will admit, are different. They allow for a reasonable amount of space to get an opinion across. But Twitter, too, can be a very devalued form of communication (though it can be highly useful for sharing news with others). But, more or less, the internet is wonderful for discovering facts and information, but it is horrible for communication.
Yet, we as a society seem to embrace it all the more! We allow ourselves to be overtaken by devices, gadgets, and websites. Trending websites are leaning towards the more and more banal (Pinterest is the weirdest thing I have ever heard of!). We are devolving as a society because we are allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by what is ultimately unimportant.
We have allowed technology to become the form of our life, instead of allowing ourselves to be that which gives form to technology. In short: we are slaves to technology. Technology is becoming the wave of the future and, simultaneously, the wave of our demise as a human race. I think of videos such as the one at the end of this post and think: we are making the lives of others worse just so that we can enjoy the latest gadget.
What has our society come to, that we need these gadgets in order to be human? Why are we lack discernment towards all that is thrown at us? Why can’t we use the faculty of reason to actually properly judge whether something is good for us or not? Why do we presume that just because it’s new, it’s good?
The existential angst I feel in getting rid of Facebook is real: I don’t know what to do without it, to an extent. Yet, I have lived without it before, I can live without it again. This move gives me the strength to do more, too: to get rid of twitter, and probably my iPhone too. I’m a lot happier when I’m with people, when I’m reading, when I’m praying. Why do I need to fill my life with endless distraction? It seems so inhuman. The fact of the matter is that technology has become that: it has become inhuman, and yet we treat it as a part of ourselves. This, to me, is too far.