Tag Archives: Neil Postman

The Interwebs Pt 2

Well, it happened.

Last Friday, after a week or so of preparing people, I did what I thought to be the unthinkable.  I DELETED MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT!

Now, Facebook is tricksy: they like to give you two weeks before deleting your account, just in case you change your mind.  That e-mail they sent haunts me: I can still revert, I can still go back!

But I refuse to.  This is what I must do.  But, I must admit, it has not been easy!  Suddenly I feel disconnected from the world.  How will the world know if – God willing – the bishop decides to call me to ordination?  How will I tell friends and family alike?  How can I share the latest articles I’ve come across, the newest ideas, the latest books, the mundane activities of my life?  I must admit it: there is slight separation anxiety attached with this detachment.  It is not easy. 

Furthermore, how am I to find out what sort of events are going on around town with my friends?  How will I know what is going down?  I feel separated, lost, and scrambling to distract myself in other realms of my life.

But, in the end, despite the difficulty, despite the slight anxiety, I realize this has been a good thing.  I did not realize how much time Facebook was taking up in my life until I left it.  How easy it was to go on my phone and check it out.  How easy it was to just sit at my computer and engage in rather pointless discussions.  In the end, it was more a waste of time than anything else.

But there is a further element of reflection from all this: the separation anxiety is real, but it is because our world has reduced communication to social media.  We are unable to communicate outside of it.  This has all occurred within the span of five years at the most!  That is a scary change, one that, I believe, is the result of the unreflective spirit of our age.  As I mentioned in my previous post, we have a tendency to take upon new technologies simply because they are new and not because they are good.  We refuse to ask “what are we losing with all this?”  It is a question we must always ask.  In the end, as Neil Postman observes, every new technology means that we lose something.  The invention of writing began to be the end of oral tradition and profound memory, for example.  It’s not necessarily bad, but it means we lose something in the process of gaining something else.

My question today, however, is whether this form of communication through social media is actually good?  The reactions I got against leaving Facebook, the fact that people felt they would be unable to communicate with me by leaving it tells me there is something wrong here.  If something creates the inability to communicate any other way, then I think we need to begin to re-evaluate and ask whether we are on the right path.  The more I reflect on it, the more I think that we are not on the right path.  I see an inability to confront and talk face to face.  I see an inability to communicate person to person.  When communication loses the personal element, then we are no longer communicating.

To me, communication must take all three transcendentals into account: the true, the good, and the beautiful.  In fact, all activity should be done in truth, for the good of myself and others, and in an attractive/enticing manner.    That is the ethos which governs my life.  Technology, however, has lost its aetsthetic value, its ability to put forward an attractive truth claim, to form an attractive ethos.  With the loss of the aesthetic dimension, with “the beautiful” being removed from the realm of technology, all that is left is facts in place of truth, activism instead of goodness.  When you remove a transcendental, all else becomes pointless because all the other transcendentals lose that which makes them what they are.  Truth needs beauty and goodness to be truth, beauty needs truth and goodness to be beauty, and goodness needs truth and beauty to be itself.  The internet, I believe, does not have the moral or aesthetic dimension.  With this, I see the internet only as a place for fact finding.  One can find resources, articles, news, etc.  This is good.  But it is not a place of communication.  The only exception I will give to this is e-mail because it mimics letter writing.  It still loses the essential element of reflectivity – it’s so easy to write without much reflection in email – but it can allow for that element.  I have yet to see that reflectivity anywhere else on the internet.

By the by, a friend and colleague has posted a wonderful reflection on his blog in reference to my first post.  You can find the article here.

In Christ

-Harrison

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The Interwebs

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.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3445_162-57367950/the-dark-side-of-shiny-apple-products/?tag=cbsContent%3BcbsCarousel

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The Overemphasis of Excitement

I couldn’t take it anymore.  Yesterday, as I took a break from my paper on Blondel, I checked my Facebook for messages and to see what friends were up to.  The following is things I tended to see:

  • The most amazing thing ever happened to me…
  • That was the best time ever
  • This is the coolest song I have ever listened to
  • Today can be an amazing day if you make it so
  • Let yourself be encountered by the awesome amazingness of Jesus today

Then I did some browsing and came across websites that had roughly the same things to say about their products (though, admittedly, I did not see anything mentioned about Jesus in the advertisements).  I had to step back for a bit.  I was overwhelmed by the seeming awesomeness of the world.  Everything was perfect and wonderful, and it made me want to puke.

The world is indeed amazing, and full of wonder.  Even the most minute of things has wonder and awe built into it.  What disturbs me about the above sayings, and many other sayings like it, is that it does not really reflect reality.  Is that really the coolest song you have ever listened to?  What about the previous song, or the one before that which you declared to be “the coolest song ever”?  I am the last person to say that Jesus isn’t awesome and amazing.  But the encounters we have with Him are often hidden and full of the mystery of His Presence.  We do not recognize Him right away.

What disturbs me about the over-excitedness and enthusiasm of the world is two things.  First, people believe you when you say something is great.  They try it out, only to find it is not so great.  And then they tend to not believe you in the future.  They have high expectations of the experience and, when those expectations are not met, they discredit that which they experience.  This is particularly true of faith-related matters.  We must be passionately in love with Jesus Christ: I agree with this.  But it does not need to be pronounced each day like a thirteen year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert, either.  Love is not manifested in excitement, it is manifested in death to self for the sake of others.  It means actually going through the hard knocks of reality, embracing the world, loving it with every fiber of your being, and giving every drop of your energy, life, and love for it.  Look at someone like Mother Teresa.  She had a very serious demeanor about her.  She smiled often, but she was also serious too.  But the world does not remember her because she was excitedly in love with Jesus.  The world remembers her because she lived her love for Jesus each day.

Often, especially in relation with youth, we try to tap that youthful energy to be about screaming, excitableness, and pure-enthusiasm. Enthusiasm becomes the litmus test for our faithfulness to Christ.  Youth have energy, and, I believe, there is even a place for such youthful excitement at times.  But that energy is meant to be tapped so that they can be trained in the love of Jesus Christ.  That is the challenge, and it is a challenge because we live in a world that overemphasizes this excitement.

Thus, to an extent, I do not blame people for this.  It is all they know.  And that is because it is all they are exposed to.  This brings me to my second point.  We are in a commercialized culture: all we know is advertisements.  And what do advertisements say?  “Use this cream and your skin will be healthier”, “use this drug and your marriage will be happier”, “buy this car and your life will be fulfilled.”  Advertisement, as the great culture critic Neil Postman once said, is no longer about selling a product according to its own merits.  Instead, advertisement manipulates a product so as to make it seem like you will be the happiest person with it in your life.  But it is not the case, and we all know it.  When we buy that cream, that electronic device, that car, we are, initially, excited about it.  But our excitement wavers because we realize the fulfillment it promises is no fulfillment at all.  If everything is exciting, then everything becomes dull.

What we must do, instead, as Christians, is to be critical towards the world we live in while also loving it.  It means toning down our excitement and not buying things at face value.  It means using our energy for something greater: for Christian love.  It means using every fiber of our being, day by day, to loving God and others with a deeper love.  That is the true call of Christians.  Excitement comes and goes, but the love of Christ is forever.

I wrote on a similar topic before.  Check out The Heresy of Happiness.

in Christ

-Harrison

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