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“The Internet is a shallow and unreliable electronic repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills. ” (Author Unknown)
Okay, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call the entire Internet “shallow.” I like the Internet. Quite an ingenious thing. I just don’t like Internet abuse. If not exactly fair to the Internet, this quote is still a nice little blast at the Internet-abusing population at large. BUT WAIT! We could make this statement much better… let’s fix it up…
“FACEBOOK is a shallow and unreliable electronic repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills.”
Perfect. Can I get the credit for that one now?
By the way, I am out of the country right now and do not have internet access 99% of the time. I hope that explains the quiet on this end. No fears, I will be back from my thrilling trip soon!
Please read the following fantastic article by one Travis Lambert. The cartoon he cites at the end is one that I have pointed out before, but it is still great to go back to…
What is Facebook Doing to Our Brains?
“I see that we are now able to “Like” not only Facebook statuses but also the comments on them. This begs the question, Will we soon be able to Like our friends’ Likes, who would in turn be able to Like our Liking their Likes, producing a potential infinite loop of mutual approbation? This problem can be best expressed by an infinite series of indirect statements:
I like that you like that I like that you like that I like that you like that I like….
I like your liking my liking your liking my liking your liking my liking your liking my liking your liking….
One disturbing thing about this potential public health crisis is that whatever object first started a hysteria of self-congratulation is easily lost from view. Will either party remember what it was that first evoked their hard-won esteem? Doubtful. Moreover, it is easy to imagine people posting simply for the sake of beginning such a circuit of reciprocal approval, the psychological payoff of the latter being a far more pleasing thing than posting a meaningful thought.
All this of course is partly in jest, but when you consider other factors, it is hard not to see that social media produces a general stupidity and a trivializing of our culture such as Neil Postman prophesied. There is of course no Dislike button, suggesting and in fact imposing on us a mind-rotting and vainglorious atmosphere of universal affirmation. The brevity of our comments (often only a simple “Bob likes this”) often precludes any rational support for our opinions, and the ease of commenting makes us insolent and opinionated, making us talk when we should rather listen and unable to hear something without offering a comment on it.
This is not a petition to stop using Facebook, just a warning. Let us be aware of the effects that all time-consuming occupations have on us. I think this cartoon says it best.”
A few days ago over at Text Patterns, Alan Jacobs offered this interesting excerpt from an article by Jed Perl:
“Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. This is obviously true of forms such as the diary, which are inherently solitary. But even those of us who write for publication can conclude, once we have clarified certain thoughts, that these thoughts are not especially valuable, or are not entirely convincing, or perhaps are simply not thoughts we want to share with others, at least not now. For many of us who love the act of writing — even when we are writing against a deadline with an editor waiting for the copy — there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other reader. I believe that most writing worth reading is the product, at least to some degree, of this extraordinarily intimate confrontation between the disorderly impressions in the writer’s mind and the more or less orderly procession of words that the writer manages to produce on the page. . . .
I am not saying that writers need to be or ought to be isolated, either from other writers or from the reading public at large. But writers must to some degree believe that they are alone with their own words. And writers who are alone with their words will quite naturally, from time to time, conclude that some of those words should remain private. This needs to be emphasized right now, when so few people in the publishing industry understand why anything that has been written, and especially written by a well-known author, should not be published, and not published with the widest possible readership in mind.
. . . What I fear is that many readers are coming to believe that a writer who holds something back from publication is somehow acting unnaturally. Nobody understands the extent to which, even for the widely acclaimed author with ready access to publication, the process of writing can sometimes necessitate a rejection or at least an avoidance of one’s own readers. That silence is a part of writing — that the work of this day or this week or even this year might for good reason be withheld — is becoming harder and harder to comprehend.”
Mr. Jacobs added: “The dominance in our culture of social networking, especially but not only Facebook, intensifies this problematic situation. Shyness and introversion, as a search for either of those words on Amazon.com will show you, are regularly seen as pathologies; Eric Schmidt thinks that if you don’t want Google to know everything about you you must have something discreditable to hide; Mark Zuckerberg believes, or says he believes, that the exposure of your life on Facebook promotes honesty and integrity. Clearly there are people who would like to see a social stigma attached to a concern for privacy: will they succeed in making it happen?”
Christine Rosen makes a good point here in an article entitled “Awe and the Machine.” I do find it lamentable that most of us understand very, very little about the science at work behind our technological innovations. More significantly, it is regrettable that people are so ready to sacrifice direct experience for virtual reality. At the end of the day, virtual experience is only so fulfilling to the human soul. It is real people, places, and experiences that affect on a much more profound level. Emphasis is my own:
“In the early age of machines, they inspired awe by proving capable of doing what man could never do alone (such as power an entire factory), or what we once believed only man could do (play chess). Now we expect our machines to do just about everything for us, from organizing our finances to writing our grocery lists. Our machines not only ease the mundane burdens of daily life (cooking, cleaning, working), but also serve, increasingly, as both our primary source of entertainment and the means for maintaining intimate relationships with others. Henry Adams’s dynamo has been replaced by Everyman’s iPod, and awe has given way to complacence and dependence. Your computer’s e-mail program doesn’t inspire awe; it is more like a dishwasher than a dynamo. Nineteenth-century rhapsodies to the machines that tamed nature, such as the steam engine, have given way to impatience with the machines that don’t immediately indulge our whims. The decline in humility toward our machines comes at a time when we know almost nothing about how or why they work. Although overwhelmed by its power, Henry Adams nevertheless had a basic understanding of how the dynamo operated. Most of us know very little about how our laptop computers run or how to repair our washing machines. Today we are less likely to feel awe in the presence of our machines than we are to experience what historian Jacques Barzun called “machine-made helplessness.” This, too, is a form of blind faith, like the people who, devotedly following the instructions of their car’s GPS device, drive right off a hill, all the while certain that this must be impossible — how could their perfectly calibrated machine be wrong? The awe experienced by earlier generations was part of a different worldview, one that demonstrated greater humility about many things, not least of which concerned their own human limits and frailties. Today we believe our machines allow us to know a lot more, and in many ways they do. What we don’t want to admit — but should — is that they also ensure that we directly experience less. Updating your Facebook page is a lot easier than venturing out into the world to confront a dynamo, as Adams did. But it is also, in the end, likely to be a lot less awe-inspiring.”
Here is most of an article that appeared on the First Things website last month, edited a little for brevity’s sake. Here is a summary for those who cannot afford the time to read it through (or for those whose attention spans have been unfortunately deadened by Facebook):
The ME-culture (evidenced by Facebook, YouTube, the inflated grade system, etc.) is a recent development sickening society (especially American society) which can be traced back largely to the self-esteem movement. Narcissism is much more than vanity, it is materialistic, sometimes aggressive, and always uninterested in emotional closeness. Narcissistic personality traits have been on the rise since the 1980s, according to much data. Humility is the only real antidote for Narcissism, and humility is a specifically Christian virtue. Therefore, if we hope to purge the culture of Narcissism, we must revive the virtues of Christianity.
Now here is the real thing, which is actually somewhat of a book review, by the way:
“Of all the astonishing features of the medieval cathedrals, one feature must stand out as particularly surprising to the modern mind: We have no idea who designed and built them. In a fashion quite foreign to contemporary practice, the architects and builders did not bother to sign their names on the cornerstones. The anonymity of the great souls responsible surely seems strange to our age. Why build the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartres if you can’t take credit for it? No lasting fame? No immortalized human glory? We are, if not scandalized, at the very least perplexed by the humility of these forgotten artists who labored in obscurity. Do and disappear? This is not how we roll in the America of the twenty-first century.
The artistic and cultural norm of the anonymous artist or craftsman began to change during the so-called Enlightenment. Witness Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, a book he dedicated “to me, with the admiration I owe myself.” The book opens with these lines: “I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man shall be myself.” Rousseau deliberately chose his title as a response to Augustine’s work by the same name. In contrast to Rousseau’s vain self-aggrandizement, Augustine gives all glory to God, as in his opening quotation from the Book of Psalms: “Great thou art, and greatly to be praised.” One has to add, however, that even if we admire Augustine’s humility, Rousseau’s language strikes us as more familiar. “To me, with the admiration I owe myself” is a dedication that would look right at home today on a Facebook or MySpace page.
In the eighteenth century, Rousseau’s narcissism, although fashionable among the philosophes, was still something of an anomaly in the wider culture. Indeed, if you believe the statistics in the book under review, such self-conscious narcissism remained an anomaly until roughly forty years ago. Not so today, argue authors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell. The Narcissism Epidemic opens with this claim: “We didn’t have to look very hard to find it. It was everywhere.” Indeed. As the reader sifts through the evidence the authors have gathered, it becomes apparent that this is a book that could have written itself. And yet this is the first popular book on the topic since Christopher Lasch’s 1979 bestseller, The Culture of Narcissism (a book still very much worth reading, in spite of its somewhat anachronistic theoretical framework, which draws heavily on Freudian psychoanalysis). We should be grateful to Twenge and Campbell for bringing us up to date, carefully collecting and collating the evidence at hand.
…..But what is dealt with here is, in fact, more a cultural phenomenon than a clinical one. The book could be classified as sociology rather than as clinical psychology or medicine. One wonders whether the authors’ use of language derived from a medical model is the wrong approach to the sort of narcissism they describe. The individuals profiled in the book are not the wounded souls who typically visit a psychiatrist’s office in search of succor and healing. They are, instead, the student denizens of UCLA and Texas Tech and the parents who formed them—individuals supposedly healthy and well adjusted, even flourishing, by contemporary standards. And yet, when one looks beneath the surface, these are sick souls. Medicine, then, is perhaps the apt descriptive metaphor. (“Narcissism is a psychocultural affliction rather than a physical disease,” as the authors put it.)
…..The research that undergirds the book’s central thesis consists of survey data from 37,000 college students. In this sample population, narcissistic personality traits rose dramatically from the 1980s to the present, and the shift was especially pronounced in women. The rise in narcissistic traits has accelerated with each decade since the data began to be collected. The authors assemble evidence to show that these trends are generalizable to other age groups, not simply confined to the sample’s college students. The symptoms of narcissism are vanity; materialism; an inflated sense of one’s own specialness or importance; antisocial behavior; little interest in emotionally close or unselfish relationships, along with a lack of empathy; exaggerated overconfidence; and a strong sense of entitlement. Sound like anyone you know?
Twenge and Campbell correctly lay much of the blame for the epidemic at the feet of the self-esteem movement, which has been enormously influential, not only in the spheres of popular psychology and education, but also as a central tenet of the “gospel of success” message heard in many evangelical megachurches….. This Trojan horse, the authors argue, has led not to health but to rampant self-centeredness. “Narcissism causes almost all of the things that Americans hoped high self-esteem would prevent, including aggression, materialism, lack of caring for others, and shallow values,” they write. “In trying to build a society that celebrates high self-esteem, self-expression, and ‘loving yourself,’ Americans have inadvertently created more narcissists—and a culture that brings out the narcissistic behavior in all of us.” The self-esteem fad apparently has backfired, but the folks at your local public or parochial grade school don’t seem to have noticed.
…..As for the claim that some narcissism is healthy in a competitive society, the authors argue that “it would be better for everyone not to concentrate on self-feelings—positive or negative—quite so much.” The book’s language here runs against the grain of much conventional wisdom in modern psychology. The authors put the case this way: “Think about the deepest joy you experience in life—it doesn’t typically come from thinking about how great you are. Instead, it comes from connecting with the world and getting away from yourself, as when you enjoy time with friends, family, and children, are engaged at work, or do all-absorbing tasks such as art, writing, crafts, athletics, or helping others.” Twenge and Campbell are drawing here on research from the so-called positive psychology movement, which recently has attempted to shift the focus of psychological research away from disease and disorder to a study of the character strengths that make for happiness and human flourishing. In the process, this research program seems to have rediscovered the list of classical (and even Christian) virtues. Yes, forgetting about myself and giving myself generously to others is a prescription for happiness.
The final misconception, that narcissism is just another word for vanity, is incomplete: “Narcissists are also materialistic, entitled, aggressive when insulted, and uninterested in emotional closeness.” A psychiatric study found that the biggest consequence of narcissism was suffering endured by people close to the narcissist.
…..The Narcissism Epidemic traces the root causes of narcissism to the triumph of the therapeutic mentality, beginning in the 1970s; to changes in parenting styles (parents wanting their kids’ approval rather than children striving for parental approval); to celebrities who are “famous for being famous” and the media that transmit their endless, self-absorbed chatter; to the MySpace/Facebook/YouTube phenomenon (dubbed Web 2.0); and to easy consumer credit (which recently came crashing down). One could add to the authors’ list, the capitulation of schools, churches, and other mediating institutions of society to these trends and fads.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” saith the preacher. “Hell, yeah, I’m hot!” saith the Facebook home page. This is vanity on steroids, and it is becoming the norm. From whence will we find the cure for this disease? As the authors argue, we need to implement reforms in parenting styles, the media, education, economic policy, and the tone of political and social life. No one who reads this book can reasonably disagree with these prescriptions. But we need more. The virtue of humility is the real antidote, and Twenge and Campbell endorse this. But even among the noblest pagans such as Aristotle, humility was not included among the list of virtues. Humility is a distinctively Christian virtue, grounded in the doctrine of Christ’s kenosis. It is not triumphalism, but simply a fact of history: Christianity was the leaven that shaped a more humble and humane culture; gave rise to America’s founding values; and, ultimately, prevented us from worshipping ourselves. The cure? Either we will become the salt and light that purge and dispel the insipid narcissism that surrounds us, or our culture will continue to descend deeper into the loud, crass, and aggressive cult of self-worship.”
Aaron Kheriaty, M.D., is director of residency training and medical education and founding director of the Psychiatry and Spirituality Forum at the department of psychiatry at the University of California, Irvine.
The following excerpt is from “Technology, Culture, and Virtue” by Patrick J. Deenen, an article found in The New Atlantis, Summer 2008. His thesis is basically that our new technologies, the mark of our generation, are at war with nature. Interesting to think on…
We have embraced technologies that are destructive of the most fundamental technology—culture itself—and which, in their destruction of the very natural order from which we ultimately derive sustenance, threaten our future and that of our children. Rather than seeking to repair the very culture that our war against nature has all but destroyed, we seek to find new technologies that can allow us to continue to live in “global ignorance.” We crave to continue the condition of living thoughtlessly, of not having to think beyond the span of our own lifetimes, to recognize our debts to the past and our obligations to the future… As has been described by Jason Peters, editor of a fine volume on Berry, it’s like heavy traffic. Heavy traffic is always other people. When you say “traffic was terrible,” you’re never talking about yourself.