The Limits of the Internet, or What Do We Really Desire?

The internet and my use of technology is making me shaky. Neurologically, that’s true as our attention spans shrink and our brains get rewired. When we subconsciously check our phones 20 times in an hour, what are we looking for? Connection through a text or Instagram picture? Breaking news? What do I want? What do YOU want?

The internet is a beautiful tool, but it’s also a vomitorium. And engaging it as a medium (regardless of the content) leaves me feeling like I’m in an information coma. I need a nap. I need to sleep it off. Alone.

But that’s not what I desire at the deepest level. I want to be with good people. I want to be present, available, loving, open, engaged, looking for where to jump in with my ideas, gifts, and energy to do something about some of what troubles me in this gorgeous, fractured world.

With so much crapola out there, I only want to write when it hurts my bones not to, when I can’t contain what’s animating me. I love the idea of being FOR things and not AGAINST things. I’m trying to stop myself mid-sentence (a hard thing in and of itself) and rephrase something from a complaint to curiosity or praise about whatever the opposite side of that concern is. In that vein, today I have a few things to share, a few things I’m really FOR:

The first is a beautiful podcast, part of On Being, which I hope you all know already. They are doing a series now, compiling old and new interviews, Civil Conversations Project, A Resource for Healing our Fractured Civic Spaces. Everything I’ve listened to in that series has been really good. This 2014 interview between Krista Tippett and James Martin is particularly good, as they contemplate what our desires show us about how we should live. It’s timely and encouraging.

A few themes are emerging in my thinking these days, and they’ve been formed through reading some great things.

I think it’s a great time to understand the lives of those very different than we are, which is obviously a different group for each of us. Two books have been helpful to me in understanding the (or, more accurately, a) rural, white, poor experience in America and the (or, actually, an) urban black experience. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (by Jeff Hobbs) are the works, respectively. In each case, one person’s story has helped me imagine a life I wouldn’t have known otherwise… and that’s a beginning, albeit a small one, in looking at a “demographic” (as if unique, individual people could ever only be demographics!) differently.

The Vanishing Neighbor (Marc J. Dunkelman) examines where we have lost the “middle ring” relationships that often ground us in civility and responsible care for ALL of those in our respective communities. We can stay constantly connected to our most intimate inner-ring. We can connect to affinity groups online that we will never meet. Yet we don’t often know our neighbors, and more and more we stay separate from those unlike us — to our great detriment.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business has really challenged me to think about news sources. By Neil Postman, it’s an exposition (from an historical perspective) of the various media we engage and how they uniquely affect our consumption of the proffered information. It’s timely, making the case that we are living more in Brave New World than 1984, “loving our oppression and the technologies that undo (our) capacities to think,” as author Aldous Huxley wrote in the former. We are amusing OURSELVES to death.

The theme in all of these is “taking a second look, being open to questioning long-held assumptions.” We’re all gonna need to do that more and more. And like everything, it can begin with us.

What do you desire? What are you “for?”