Sunday, June 18, 2017

Chapter 10: Man and the Machine

Dreher begins this chapter by recounting an anecdote in which our author--and intrepid blogger--was required to be offline while visiting a monastery.  He observes: "the smartphone and the computer dominate my life".  Such dominance provides a considerable challenge to authentic Christian living. 

For not only does technology control us to some extent--even while promising us that we will be able to control it.  It morphs into an ideology "that conditions how we humans understand reality."  It "trains us to accept that the only meaning there is in the world is what we choose to assign in our endless quest to master nature."

We are cautioned against seeing technology as morally neutral.  He quotes Michael Hanby: "before technology becomes an instrument, it is fundamentally a way of regarding the world that contains within itself an understanding of being, nature and truth."

The previous chapter dealt with the ramifications of a technology called the birth control pill--what Pat Buchanan claims will one day be termed the suicide tablet of the West.  The pill was only intended to allow married men and women to take control of their own reproduction.  But the technology contains within itself an implicit understanding of human sexuality.  The logic of the pill dictates that it be used to free all men and women, married and unmarried, from the natural consequences of sex.

The ramifications of the Internet are at least as significant as those of the pill.  Dreher is to be commended for recognizing this.  The Internet pushes novelty.  It's absurd to think of someone compiling a collection of old tweets for distribution.  The point of Twitter is to offer an up to the second take, after which the sentiment vanishes into the ether, to be replaced by one just as fleeting and ephemeral.

We're not going to do away with the Internet, which is probably good for this software developer, but we can monitor our usage.  We should undertake periods of digital fasting.  I could have used more examples here.  I offer these suggestions from a talk by John Cuddeback: we could have a place in our homes where phones should be placed, away from the business of living.  We could also have times when no one is to be utilizing technology.  The point here is not to define a hard and fast rule, but to live intentionality guided by prudence.  To use the Internet cavalierly is to be used by it.

Dreher also recommends taking smart phones away from kids.  Adult brains are barely able to cope with such technology; giving such devices to kids is little short of insanity.  Smart phones are also a gateway to the evils of pornography.  

This seems obvious to me, but based on the proliferation of the technology, it's not treated that way by the culture.  What seems to happen is that some idiot parents give in to the whining of their kid, after which that kid's classmates complain to their parents, whereupon the parents give in.  Homeschooling will be helpful here.  I envision telling people that, yes, our kids are weird: they're the ones who know how to have conversations.

Dreher should have mentioned that it's also important for parents to model moderation for their kids. If mom and dad are constantly on their smart phones, they can't expect their kids to behave differently.  If we're living for the good, the true, and the beautiful, we can hope to pass on these habits to our children.  But we can't give what we don't have.

He cautions pastors against including social media in worship.  Again, obvious stuff.  As Anthony Esolen has pointed out, the silence of our churches should cry out to the denizens of an age of noise and cacophony.  Imitating the distractions of the modern world is a terrible strategy.  Dreher didn't recommend smashing the guitars of our worship leaders and bringing back Gregorian chant--but I will.

As an antidote to technology, we should work with our hands.  We are not disembodied spirits trapped in meat skeletons.  We are body and soul.  As St. Benedict knew, working with our bodies is an excellent way to remember this.  "Getting our hands dirty, so to speak, with gardening, cooking, sewing, exercise and the like, is a crucial way of restoring our sense of connection with the real world."  I would add home brewing to the list.

He ends this chapter with a magnificent quote from the great Wendell Berry: "It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines."

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