Queries and Confessions of a Electronic neo-Luddite; Or looking at the value of being a little less media connected in our daily lives…
The Luddites were a historical American social/religious group in the 1800″s. They were known for their disdain and distrust of modern technology- favoring more organic and natural ways. Their outlook fervently stated that modern machinery and inventions served to derail and distract from a person’s ability to learn, to live reverently and pray, or simply rob you of the time necessary to pay attention to the movement of the spirit and other essentials of community life. I wonder what they would think of today’s wired world?
Admittedly, I have yet to befriend most of this modern technology that pervades our world- the vast array of technological tools, gadgets, and entertainment options that are marketed so pervasively to young and old alike. Some years ago, I drew my line at wearing a pager- but I easily succumbed to the cell phone. I brought a PDA, and it baffles me; I am in awe of all the wireless ways of contact and computation, and I warily eye the temptation of flooding myself with even more outside sources of stimulus.
As a Baby Boomer, I have come to deeply appreciate the uses of mass media, and do also strenuously deprecate much of the actual uses and abuses of radio, television and film in our world. As the popular critique goes, all the possible channels could be conveying PBS quality programming as sources of creativity, intelligence and enlightenment have been relegated to a precious few. Instead, in the name of electronic freedom, we have an abundance of mindless programming, crass commercialism, and the prophecy of the “vast wasteland” covering many channels and media outlets.
Now, along comes small sizes for personal audio and video…. Now it fits into our phones, and with tiny headsets, fits into our pockets! Additionally, we are being given every possible avenue for electronic preoccupation and fantasy living…
Not only does the example of people sleeping out in the cold and rain for their new X-Box attest to the addiction we have to fantasy and violence, but it seems to contribute to the lack of honest and heartfelt reflection on humanity, our world, and the need for creative problem solving and developing an engaged, active compassion. It seems that we have fully succeeded in inventing ways to stay plugged in, but tuned out, so that the last priority of youth and our engrossed media culture appears to be listening to the wind, the song of the birds, and for the most practical of reasons- paying attention to oncoming traffic!
In a world where education standards have declined, where, if I am to believe this, a majority of high school children cannot find their own state on a map, I have to ask, what will happen to the rate of our cultural literacy?
Will the next generation of technophiles be too busy texting, downloading pop tunes and video clips? Well, I guess that might be a great advancement if I could be assured that they were also spending quality time listening to Mozart or Chopin instead of the latest tunes from “gangsta rap” or air head singers. Will they be occupied viewing classic films, great plays, and reading the essential writings of Western Civilization, or will they become further fascinated by “grand theft auto” or save us one and all, still listening and modeling the behaviors of Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton, Eminem, and Fitty Cent, etc.?
Throughout our media saturated world, I ask when will we give ourselves permission to unplug, to think? To give ourselves and our children the gift of time to just listen…. Play; learn; etc. be outside? Have our cultural attention spans become so short, and our need for distraction so great that sound bytes replace honest dialogue and extended discussion… Does it replace any impetus towards more contemplative living, where we can reflect and ponder the meaning of our lives, our choices, our values?
From St. Benedict’s first rule: Asculta! Listen! ( listen to your heart) To Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace in every step, and mindfulness living”, every great philosophical and religious tradition of humanity recommends time set aside for reflection, quiet, meditation, prayer, etc. as necessary tools for inner and ethical development. So I end this reflection by asking this:
Can you think highly enough of yourself, your place in our world, to give yourself the gift of silence? Can you fit in a quiet walk, or a meditative rest? Even if you begin modestly, with setting aside only 15 minutes a day for your inner work, you will receive unexpected dividends, and valuable results.
So why not start living on a more quiet note?