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viewpoint

Technology in a Zoom world

| Monday, April 19, 2021

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

Have you ever watched a movie that was pretty bad but for some reason is stuck in your memory?  One of those movies for me is “The Net,” starring Sandra Bullock. The plot is all over the place and the acting is nothing to call home about, but there is one aspect of the movie that is not just salvageable but eerily relevant to today: the lifestyle of Bullock’s character. Everything she did was on the computer. It was her life. She carried a computer everywhere she went. Most of her interactions with other people took place over Reddit-like chat rooms. She had so few face-to-face relationships that when her identity was stolen, she was hard-pressed to find a handful of friends to vouch that she was who she claimed to be. She lived, effectively, in another world, in a reality of ones and zeros, and with a few clicks on the keyboard, everything she had done had been completely wiped from that reality.

Minus the part about the handful of friends, and you have a life that would be considered pretty normal today. If you switch a few details, you may even see yourself in that description. And yes, the pandemic has certainly changed things, but we know that this was also true before the pandemic — and probably will get only worse.

By now you may already be chalking me up with all those people who wag their finger and say you need to get away from electronics altogether. Not so fast. I’m not saying that the internet and technology are inherently evil. We all know what a spectacular gift the internet is and can be. But too often I find myself hiding behind this to justify internet usage that is nothing less than a waste of time. Don’t just look at your total screen time; look at your browser history or how long you’ve been mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. How much can you really say was edifying?  How much can you say actually made you happy (I’m not talking about laughs or a quickly fading feeling)? How much can you even remember?

When it comes to technology, we also know it’s not just about what we are doing but what it is doing to us. From personal experience, I know that our use of technology has reduced attention spans and critical thinking skills. Normal-sized news articles are becoming too long for us. We just need the “fast facts” or the “tl;dr” section at the bottom of the screen. Even when a page takes a few seconds longer to load than usual, it’s easy for us to become impatient. That’s a problem.

But my main critique, while intrinsically related to what has been said, is much deeper. It is the problem that “The Net” illustrated for us earlier. We are strangely captivated and addicted to that which isn’t even real, to a world of endless games and memes, to a reality created by pictures and jokes and often unfruitful words. It doesn’t take long to find that it is quite an empty world. But it is ours. It’s a world that will conform to your every desire. It is a world that offers us whatever we want when we want it. And so it consumes the supposedly independent and unaffected viewer. It distorts our understanding of the real world. It can even make us feel like the “reality” we see on the screen is more real than reality itself, making us plunge all the more into our personal digital bubble. When we find it more natural to talk over text and Zoom than in person (as I admittedly find myself feeling sometimes), that’s probably not a good thing. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been impacted by the “you-centered” world of the internet because people naturally like that idea and easily buy into that trap. Much of our time on the internet only fuels this false picture of reality, and it will produce worse and worse consequences.

Some may tell you that people will be more caring and compassionate after the pandemic. This is one of the reasons why they will not. Much of how we use technology puffs up the ego, and the spread of instant, well, everything is not going to make us somehow more patient or thoughtful but more impatient, demanding, and entitled. Technology, if abused, is a drug, one that puts us at the center of “reality.” If man naturally loves this concept (he does), then why do you think that offering him more opportunities to enjoy the drug of self-centeredness will result in him leaving it forever?

Is there not a way that we can enjoy the benefits of technology while reducing its harmful effects? Certainly. It cannot, however, start with the total denunciation of technology or the idolization of “wholesome” activities. This is because the central issue has existed long before the birth of the iPhone or the first desktop. The main issue is the man-centered thinking you and I (I need to hear this as much as you!) bring to issues like technology. We do not get to create our own reality, our own meaning or our own sense of right and wrong. There is an objective purpose we are called to fulfill, one that finds its source in a Creator. Indeed, that is the only way we could have a purpose at all. This all suggests that we are not the center and source of our reality and meaning but God is. Any right view on anything must take this into account, and all other beliefs, being false at their core, must and will fail in the end.

This way of thinking requires no small change. Indeed, it means that I need to completely rethink how I even approach technology, and maybe you do too! While we have a long way to go, at least this is a step in the right direction. And that’s a lot further than much of our time on the internet has gotten us.

Andrew Sveda is a sophomore at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, PA majoring in political science. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading, and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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