Wednesday, September 11, 2013

All change is bad, even change for the better

I like to say, "All change is bad, even change for the better", but I always mentally put scare quotes around "better". Most change is simply not for the better.

I like the internet as much as the next Facebook addict, but I know full well that it's not good for me. I know that the internet isn't good for the world, for our societies. It's not bringing more happiness, more "social cohesion" or stability, more intelligence or mental or emotional health.

A lot would change and there would be many problems if the internet simply stopped working (massive solar flare perhaps?) but putting the world back to a state in which we must interact with each other in "real time" would not, in the long run, be anything but a good thing. The internet has made much of our lives artificial, unReal. I sometimes wonder what it would take to get it out of my life.

Is the internet just another idol? Is entertainment killing our souls? I imagine that someone like Fr. Faber would think so. Probably this guy would too.

Mr. John Collingwood, I salute you for a sensible fellow, and I envy you your freedom from the mind-numbing and soul-choking encumberments of Modernia.

I remember the day, back when I lived in North Vancouver, that I called up the Sally Anne and asked them to come and take away my TV. I had bought it second hand, and it was huge and filled not only my living room with its baleful unblinking eye, but my entire life. One day after work, I was watching the news, and there was an item in which some young thugs had broken into a children's petting zoo and had bludgeoned a donkey to death, just for the fun of it. Something in me snapped, and I thought, "What do I "need to know" that for? How has that improved my mind, my life or my knowledge?"

As soon as it was gone, I realised how addicted I had become to the wretched thing. Every day, several times a day, I would find myself mindlessly groping for the remote control in an effort to take my brain away from the real world. It took a while to adjust, but in the end, I found it was enormously worth it. That was about 1994.

Then the internet came.

When I worked in Toronto, I lived in a beautiful old house that I shared with a group of other ladies who also didn't make a lot of money. We didn't have a microwaver or a TV, and I think only one of us had a cell, but we made sure to get internet access right away. But in those days, with my room filled with lovely tatty old fashioned furniture, I used to finish my job and put my computer away in a cupboard, roll up the cables and stash them out of sight, and all traces of the 21st century would instantly vanish.

I wonder what has happened to me that I have left that very healthy practice?

Hell, I never even liked the phone, even when it was safely contained by being attached to the wall. The day I found myself trying to answer my mobile phone while I was riding my bike, while the phone was in my handbag in the front basket, while I was trying to turn left in a busy intersection, was the day I knew the mobile had got hold of my brain. I should have won the Darwin Award that day.

The phone is a bad invention for those of us with crippling social anxieties. But in another way, the internet is worse because it allows us to hide much more effectively from our friends, from life and The Real.

Maybe I should be making more efforts to hide from Modernia and live in The Real.

All change is bad, even change for the better. This is mostly because the humans are far, far less clever than we think we are, and rarely know what is going to be best for ourselves.



Teresa B. said...

I realized that my husband has a book of Fr. Faber's in our library.
I did not know anything about him until now. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

The internet did not cause mass marital breakdowns, it did not cause the social acceptability of extended families living thousands of miles apart, it did not cause effective Soviet demoralization campaigns, it did not cause American anti-Catholicism, it did not cause the destruction in America of human-scale communities in favor of car-based ones. I remember life before the internet in the aftermath of decades of all that stuff and it was worse. People were not driven out of their isolation to socialize and form real community; they just sat at home and were sad little nerds at home. It was *really, really* awful. The internet ameliorated all of those things. I guess you can make the argument that if we didn't have the anodyne, we might have been motivated to do something about it, but I was there and I didn't see any motivation. I just saw a lot of lonely misery for which people mostly didn't even have the words, because they couldn't find other people to validate what we knew in our hearts: "this world we are living in together has been terribly damaged, wilfully, purposefully, but everyone acts like we are the ones with the problem."

There has been a sea change recently as more and more and younger and younger people use smart phones to socialize, but this change is not "the internet," it is more complex. I think the major issues have to do with staring at a screen, rarely going outside, lack of unstructured time, and lack of proper teaching relationships; but again, all of these problems existed before the internet and would exist if we had little devices in our pockets that had giant memories but no intercommunication.

People's problem with the internet qua internet is a problem of self-discipline. It is similar to the problems we all have in an environment of abundant food. However this is a personal problem, and not only does everyone need to regulate their own usage because it's extremely unlikely to go away, suggesting that taking it away *from society at large* as opposed to imposing a personal internet fast, perhaps with the assistance of a spiritual director, is like suggesting that we should get less good at farming and transportation because you personally can't not eat some cookies. Let them all not eat cake because I can't not eat cake? - Karen