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Sunday, November 13, 2011
Technology standing between us and the world
As you, my readers, may have guessed from the last few posts, I am reading – actually rereading – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, a personal meditation written by Thomas Merton, first published 46 years ago in 1966.
I am awed that Merton – long before the age of computers, virtual reality, and Facebook, – already grasped the essential conundrum of modern technological society: It’s “as if the whole of reality were in the inventions that stand between us and the world: the inventions that have become our world. (p. 15)”
He goes on to say: “Technology is not in itself opposed to spirituality... But it presents a great temptation. For instance, where many machines are used..., there can be a deadening of spirit and of sensibility, a blunting of perception, a loss of awareness, a lowering of tone, a general fatigue and lassitude, a proneness to unrest and guilt which we might be less likely to suffer if we simply went out and worked with our hands in the woods or in the fields.” (p. 16)
Like incoming artillery rounds landing too close, Merton’s words about the harmful effects of technology have rung in my ears for the last week, ever since I updated my computer operating system only to discover, to my horror, that various subsystems crashed, data was lost, and certain crucial applications could not be upgraded – like my financial software I use for my business and also my databases. In addition, my email stopped working, along with my voicemail...on and on, a pure disaster.
My world was knocked asunder, like being flattened by a falling sequoia tree.
Things are better now but I am still spending hours every day, putting things back together on my hard drive – which I regrettably admit – has taken over altogether too much of what used to be handled by me and my brain. I'm horrified to find out to what a degree, slowly and insidiously, technology has come to control my life.
Today was a good day as I managed to resurrect 857 quotations, some long, some not that I have collected over the last 30 years: quotations that spoke to me in a deep and personal way – like Merton’s quote above:
In the wake of my computer disaster, Merton’s description of technology’s deleterious effects is a perfect diagnosis of my condition: a deadening of spirit and of sensibility, a blunting of perception, a loss of awareness, a lowering of tone, a general fatigue and lassitude, a proneness to unrest and guilt which we might be less likely to suffer if we simply went out and worked with our hands in the woods or in the fields.”
My only saving grace, preventing both manic anger and depressive stupor – echoing Merton’s advice – has been my daily therapy of going deep into my woods to work with my hands, cutting firewood for next year.