Unplugging and its Discontents

The New Yorker website just published a provocative piece called “The Pointlessness of Unplugging.” I’m ambivalent about some of the author’s arguments, though I’m totally in agreement with its final takeaway: “If it takes unplugging to learn how better to live plugged in, so be it. But let’s not mistake such experiments in asceticism for a sustainable way of life. For most of us, the modern world is full of gadgets and electronics, and we’d do better to reflect on how we can live there than to pretend we can live elsewhere.”

Perhaps of most interest to the readers of this blog, however, is the author’s citation of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s thoughts about the relationship between online communication and our authentic selves:

I was struck last year when Pope Benedict XVI, after he started tweeting, delivered a message on social networks. “The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friends, and connections facilitate communion,” the Pope said. He added that, with effort, “it is not only ideas and information that are shared but, ultimately, our very selves.” Perhaps most surprisingly, the Pope argued, “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young.”

I think the most important point of the Pope’s address is his claim (referenced but not quoted in the New Yorker piece) that those involved in social media must “make an effort to be authentic.” Really making ourselves available to others is not simply about physical presence: we can be physically present but still be miles away emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The Pope seems to be suggesting that the opposite may also be true: we can be hundreds of miles away from one another but still bear witness to others through our emotional, mental, and spiritual presence.

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3 thoughts on “Unplugging and its Discontents

  1. I agree with Benedict, and reached this conclusion on my own.

    I am going out on a limb by saying this, but a lot of Christians who blog tend to be very self-focused and attention-seeking. I have gathered data and analysed it. For a number of years after my husband died and friends IRL deserted me I tried to build community online through a few Christian discussions boards/blogs I was involved on by reaching out, but to no avail. I concluded that most of the bloggers and participants were more interested in hearing their own thoughts than actually getting to know readers. They are just too wrapped up in their own lives and thoughts, and merely in search of an audience. I ran across a couple of rare exceptions, and these I treasure. I found much more true community at a secular economics site than I have found on Christian blogs/discussion sites.

    • P.S. I should add that there are a lot of introverts who blog, but introverts can be just as attention-seeking and self-centered as extroverts. Introversion does not automatically mean caring/other-directed (and I speak as a hardcore introvert myself).

  2. Hi K,

    Sorry to take so long to reply. I think the temptation to treat online fora, be they blogs, comboxes, chat forums, etc., as sites for personal monologue is very tempting. Without another person physically in front of you, it can be very easy to just start talking to—and about—yourself. To what degree that intersects with the personal psychology of folks is, no doubt, a complex question. I imagine that part of it has to do with the dangers of the medium itself and part of it has to do with the folks who are attracted to the medium to begin with. But, regardless, it is certainly an impulse that has to be fought against!

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