Four Questions Concerning The Internet, part two
I love you Paul you're a genius!
I'm working on a big four-part essay now, in the first part of which my wife told me not to say "smash your smartphones" but that "lay them aside" was better -- but I think once she reads this, she'll appreciate how mild I was actually being in the first version :)
As part of our honeymoon, we visited an Orthodox monastery in California which had refused electricity for its whole life. And it was full of life. We could hardly find our way at all down the mountain from our cabin to the temple at 4:45 AM trying to get to matins, since there were no lights, also no path except a slim dirt one; finally, we saw a little flickering lampada in the dirt cemetery, and knew we were on the right track. Once we got to the temple, lit only by beeswax candles, it was like walking into honeycomb sun -- I shed tears -- just because it was too bright for my non-adjusted eyes.
As Sherrard says, "Electric light blacks out the liturgy"...
Technology is not neutral, but the question I would ask of you is simply "Can it be redeemed?" For ponder the contrary, to say that it cannot be redeemed is to say that there is an area of creation (sub-creation) which is beyond the reach of God. Not sure you want to go there... [Also: Pirsig!! ;) ]
This is great. Every time I read your stuff I’m motivated more and more to do away with all this tech. I’m working on it at home. Unfortunately I work in education, where the infatuation with computers and all the “good things they do for kids” is a deeply held conviction, almost on the level of a religious belief. I do what I can in making everything as non-Machine based as possible, but it is difficult.
As another new Orthodox Christian, I would have been equally distressed by seeing an Athonite monk whip out a smartphone. Yikes. But did you have a chance to ask him his thoughts on the smartphone's role in the life of a monk? I wonder if sometimes we're too jaded about the role of technology in our society. Perhaps the Athonite monks have found an Amish-like way to very selectively integrate the useful and reject the damaging.
Not taking the Jab made me stronger and more awake also, but it took me to the very limits of my sanity and place me at the margins of society and employment.
I wonder how I will keep my sanity next time, when there is another ‘line in the sand’ moment involving AI and it’s acolytes.
One can only pray and hold onto truth as best as they can
The thought on how we might not even know we are using AI is a really interesting one, as is your observation of how far smartphones have penetrated into realms of society that should be antithetical.
I find it fascinating how even deep in the Amazon you have tribes folk who have access to smartphones. The invasive nature of this technology is akin to an invasive species which rapidly spreads through a habitat and modifies the habitat so that the habitat becomes more hospitable and better tailored to the invasive species. We see the same invasive dynamic with the smartphone to be sure. And in the same way that we can't rely on the natural habitat to remove an invasive species - human management is required - the drawing of lines (human management) is required to remove/manage the smartphone.
(disclaimer I (limitedly) use a smartphone)
Your likening of the smartphone to a drug is also really worth pondering. The smartphone could be described as the 'ultimate' drug: highly addictive with the most powerful algorithms driving this addiction. Additionally, smartphones provide quick bursts of intense pleasure; pseudo-community (social media); immense power (with one tweet or one message one could send shockwaves through society); and self-promotion (selfies, etc). Perhaps smartphones should come with a health warning stuck to their backs like a cigarette packet does!
Two of Wendell Berry ‘s essay collections that sharpened my social/cultural criticism were “What Are People For?”, which was published in 1990, and “Standing by Words”, published in 1982. This second collection’s seminal piece was his critique of the Three Mile Island Nuclear facility incident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Berry’s concern was the failure of the local, state, and federal officials failure to provide an honest assessment of the seriousness of the incident. News briefs and public statements were obtuse and coded in a way to allay people’s fear. I guess the overused term today is “transparency”. That was the post-Vietnam era where young people now were questioning our government’s relationship (the Nuclear Regulatory Agency) with the nuclear energy industry. There was a lot of distrust and fear that came out of that incident. I remember looking at maps of the blast zone (I lived outside Washington, D.C.) recognizing I could have been “toast” like so many others.
Here we are 50 years later having the same discussions about a technology and whether it is serving the good for humanity or something other. Oh, I am still not a proponent of nuclear energy. In 1995, I lived in a small Massachusetts town called Rowe and watched the last remnants of a decommissioned nuclear power facility be carted away in a procession of tractor trailers. I slept well that night.
I once saw a Buddhist monk in Bhutan pull out a smartphone (and this was 15 years ago) and I was not shocked because he was so obviously connected with other beings, human and otherwise. He offered our small group refreshments, and then went back to his solo mountan vigil. The problem of the religious believer is the terrible collision of the sacred and the products of the Machine. For the non-believer this is less of a problem, because the machine (intentional small m) only tries to disconnect her from the natural world, and this is easily resisted if the love of the natural world is strong enough, and the horror of the machine truly appreciated.
In an essay by Mary Harrington I commented that I don’t think we are as far along in The Passion as she suspects. I suggested we might be found at the 8th station Jesus meets the women. But your essay has me thinking we might be at the 5th Simon of Cyrene hells Jesus carry His Cross.
Often I’ve listened to secular minded people who seem to be warning us and attempting to prepare us for the evils that await us due to technology and thought “what an unlikely ally”. I see these unlikely folks as Simons of Cyrene. They never wanted to be involved in spiritual battle. They’re unsure how they’ve come to see the existential threats of our modern road towards Calvary but they see where we are headed and they are now forced to help.
We should always be open to any and all who would help us carry this cross. We should share the weight with them because we need their help but more importantly because in carrying it together they might see the cross with new eyes.
We must pray to Saint Simon of Cyrene and ask him for his prayers and help in this process.
Let’s assume, since you’re Greek Orthodox, that your branch of Christianity takes the lead on this and thousands of Orthodox believers all over the world actually commit to creating tiny abbeys of misrule. This idea is essentially the same as Rod Dreher’s in The Benedict Option. My question is, do you create rules for who gets in? For context, I live in Spain. People are already creating oases of tech-free living but they are hippy/ecstatic dance/Mother Earth centered. We need rules in the abbeys of misrule, methinks. Anybody writing about that?
"The Internet is not alive; the Internet is simply us."
What if both are true? And what is "us"?
I think that we have, in losing a sense of the Fall, become ignorant of what we are. For example, I am personally acquainted with people from three different families where sexual abuse of children by their fathers occurred. Three! I met none of these people in a professional setting, just random meetings at college and an adoption support group. One of the three does meet other victims, and she tells me that this is epidemic.
If the internet is "demonic", figuratively, literally, otherwise, perhaps it is because "we" are.
My spiritual guide has said, "we are capable of creating anything, but not always to our blessing." To me Blessing simply means, something that connects me to spirit and when connected to spirit, experiencing reverence. Tempering all choices in life through this lens provides me with a realistic assessment of whatever I choose to engage with and in. Thank you Paul for reminding us of how "we make the temple a den of thieves", when we forget the meaning of Blessing. Sagewalker
I constantly tell my wife and children about my fantasy to take all the smartphones in our home and smash them with a giant sledgehammer.
There should be lots of retreats that offer digital detox.
Sorry to be a dick but: robot AI priests are preferable because they won’t molest the parishioners children.
That’s it, that is it, perfection, all human institutions eventually lead to junior being molested, none more than religious institutions, so gender neutral robots.
That is truly perfect, the complete inversion of everything, up is down, black is white, ignorance is strength.