In an essay entitled “The Hidden Threat to Catholicism,” Eric Sammons articulates a concern many people have had for a while: technology, specifically the internet, has done enormous damage to communities and cultures.
While he focuses on the church, Sammons’s argument could be applied to any institution. As people now outsource so much of their time, energy, and interaction to the internet, they have pulled away from actual involvement with actual people in their actual lives.
This makes so many people vulnerable to internet moguls who control the platforms and search engines that regulate information. They push their values, silence dissent, and design an all-encompassing reality that reflects their vision and smothers everything else.
Furthermore, because it’s virtual, contradictions with reality pose no problem. On the internet, socialism works, gender and sexual attraction are spectrums, and Donald Trump and his supporters are all fascists.
Unfortunately, internet culture is now the predominant culture, posing a seminal challenge to conservatives: How does one guard against its craziness?
Those on the political left seem to submit to it for the most part. They trust the news, parrot all the “correct” slogans, and binge on the cheap leftist entertainment that flows continually through Tik Tok and Youtube. They don’t mind baring their souls or sharing their political views on social media.
Those on the right usually do one of two things instead. Some choose to engage with the culture and take to these large platforms and argue for the other side and offer alternative views. Unfortunately, they tend to be the causalities of cancel culture, but this doesn’t seem to deter them. They still use the internet in much the same ways as those on the left.
Others argue for building a parallel internet for conservatives. Instead of relying on Big Tech, they can rely on alternative news outlets and platforms that generally rebut the narratives from the other side.
For all this, though, there doesn’t seem to be much meaningful change in the culture. The world is still becoming virtualized, and the craziness continues and becomes more mainstream. And even if people choose to fight it or escape it, their children are vulnerable.
The best answer to a virtualized culture is simple but enormously difficult: cut the cord, in so far as it’s possible. Instead of replacing Twitter with Parler, arguing that Facebook should be regulated, and calling out the hypocrisy of Disney while bingeing on “The Mandalorian,” people should simply stop spending their time with these things.
Similarly, parents shouldn’t give their children smartphones at any point. This is not necessarily a strategy to hurt Big Tech (there are better ways to do that), but a way for individuals to regain a hold on reality.
As impossible as this all seems, this was the way life was for most people a mere 25 years ago. In many ways, life in those days was so much better. Churches were fuller, families spent more time together, people talked more, and even entertainment was better. Parents didn’t have to worry as much about their children turning on them and becoming radical leftists. Mostly, they were concerned about them picking up crude language and humor from “The Simpsons” or MTV.
True, life was more inconvenient in many ways — indeed, few miss Blockbuster or floppy disks — and there were still serious problems in American culture. But recovering some of that simplicity and cutting out some screen time can bring back the benefits of physical reality and common sense.
The idea is to enjoy the utility of technology without succumbing to habit. True, computers and the internet are often necessary for workplaces, but not really at home. Therefore, personal habits like scrolling through posts and pictures on social media should be eliminated or strictly limited. Even taking in a movie or television show should be reserved for the weekend and only for a couple of hours at most.
Of course, breaking a habit isn’t easy, and for people with families, it’s close to impossible. My wife and canceled our Netflix account years ago and stopped playing video games. Three children later, life became more hectic and some of these habits returned.
While we keep our children away from screens during the day, we’ll go back to them ourselves after they go to bed. Our energy and resolve have been sapped by the needs of young people, me at school and my wife at home.
Ironically, however, I’ve found that the screen doesn’t bring relief, but only amplifies the feeling of burnout. As Adam Grant explains in his book “Give and Take,” burnout is not the result of simply doing too much, but of doing so much and producing so little. As such, doing things virtually, even things intended for relaxation, induces burnout. I’d rather be with real people, having real conversations, sitting in a real space. It’s more satisfying, and I feel better afterward.
Even though I have some improvements to make (this is my resolution for the summer), I am happy to say that going screen-free has benefited my children enormously. They have big personalities, never get bored, and are quite talkative (sometimes too much so). They are experiencing reality to the fullest.
More importantly, they look up to their parents and feel a strong attachment to their family. I don’t have to worry so much about bad influences. When my children are with their peers, they are the influencers.
While so much of the stress and tunnel vision of excessive screen time is lifted after a few days of abstinence, recovering those deeper insights and connections with reality takes at least a few months. Ultimately, the goal should be to place a permanent limit on on-screen usage. For children who have never developed the habit, this is, of course, much easier. Yet for most adults, it’s often a serious, genuine adjustment that requires patience and discipline.
But this is the key. To overcome a corrupt culture, people must develop confidence in themselves to do the hard, necessary work. And confidence comes from removing bad habits and recovering reality. When this happens, a person will find not only time but the will to know himself and others and to form real communities. One can avoid the craziness of the virtualized living, and finally recognize that this isn’t living at all.