The Contradiction of Our Frenzied Lifestyles

contradicton of lifestylesIn a world where everything is so rationalistic and well-organized, it seems a contradiction that people would seek after things like drugs, alcohol abuse, promiscuity, violence, extreme sports, intense music, violent video games and other such pursuits that border on the irrational.

Yet, as sociologist Richard Strivers notes, such behavior is actually a consequence of overly rationalistic institutions. As bureaucratic and technical structures proliferate, he claims people sense that they have lost control over their lives. Their reaction is to escape into a realm of ecstasy that seems to rebel against this too orderly existence.

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The paradox is that technology becomes both a supreme organizing and disorganizing force. The more rational and technological that society becomes, the more it manifests irrational actions and attitude. People feel the need to escape into irrational pursuits if only to enjoy temporary amnesia or pleasure. Technology directly produces a kind of ecstasy by imposing a frenzied tempo upon society that works as a type of compensation for regimentation.

Humans cannot stand to have their lives fully rational, subject to timetables, lists and rules,” Stivers concludes. “Their instincts require an outlet that produces an altered state of consciousness – mysticism or ecstasy.”1

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What has been lost is the balance that once characterized an organic Christian society that was able to reconcile orderly development and progress with calm spiritual pursuits. The material and spiritual orders used to work together to favor the general well-being of society. Today, one works with the other to favor behavior that is self-destructive.

1 Richard Stivers, Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Lanham, Md., 2004, p. 70.

 

What Has Happened to Community?

charityIn modern society, there is no longer the sense of communal space where conversation and leisure normally took place. There is no longer a feeling of community where people sense the satisfaction of being together.

That is not to say people do not gather in crowds. There are plenty of places where large numbers of people congregate. However the rules of communication have changed dramatically.

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Psychologist Sherry Turkle claims that people can be together, but more often than not they are alone together – each isolated as in a bubble in the midst of the crowd. She writes: “In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a café, or a park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. Each is tethered to a mobile device and to the people and places to which that device serves as a portal.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, New York, Basic Books, 2011, p. 155)

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This is a topic that is discussed at length in the book, Return to Order. Order your book now!


‘Deep Work’: A Shallow Approach to a Deep Problem

‘Deep Work’: A Shallow Approach to a Deep Problem

“The problems of Internet addiction and constant distraction are on everyone’s mind.”

There are many books that discuss the harmful effects of cyber distractions upon society and the individual. Such works offer compelling arguments that contribute to the growing skepticism in the general public about our relationships to our machines. Unfortunately, Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is not one of these books.

In all fairness, it must be said that Newport never intended his book to be a broadside against Internet obsessions. The Georgetown assistant professor clearly states that he takes no position in the philosophical debate as to whether online distractions are good or bad. All he wants to do is declare “a pragmatic recognition that the ability to concentrate is a skill that gets valuable things done.”

 

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Thus, the book is what he says it is: a treatise on the benefits of concentration. Newport stays laser-focused on his topic, turning what could be a fascinating and scathing commentary on postmodern behavior, into a how-to manual on getting ahead by single-minded determination.

His topic is “deep work,” which Newport defines as the “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacity to their limit.” He then proves how deep work is valuable, rare, and meaningful, in much the same way that someone might describe the benefits of weightlifting.

Newport cannot be faulted for delivering what he promises. However, the title Deep Work leads the reader to expect a more profound analysis of today’s distracted world. The book’s appeal is found in the context of distraction rather than the allure of concentration. By avoiding controversy, the author hollows out the debate, taking a shallow approach to a deep topic.

 

 
Indeed, a deep discussion on this matter is much needed. The problems of Internet addiction and constant distraction are on everyone’s mind. It is affecting social skills, workplace productivity, and relationships. People are clamoring for an understanding of what went wrong. Thus, the reader wants more and perceives there is much more material to explore than that which Newport chooses to develop.

Of course, Newport cannot avoid the debate entirely. To the degree that he enters into concepts touching upon the meaning and purpose in life, he does offer some fascinating insights that can provoke deep thought.

His criticism of Descartes’ skepticism, for example, describes the creation of a shallow world of uncertainty that “stripped the world of the order and sacredness essential to creating meaning.” He decries the practice of the autonomous individual who alone determines what is meaningful and what is not, as an open door to a “creeping nihilism.” He prescribes deep work in the form of traditional craftsmanship as one way to return to meaning and avoid a “boring,” “unlivable” life.

One can appreciate Newport’s understanding of the workings of the human mind when he touches upon how a person reaches fulfillment when stretched to the limits of doing something difficult and worthwhile. He is quick to point out the value of true leisure in providing balance in a person’s life and opportunities to meditate and ruminate over problems.

These existential insights, however, are rare and almost accidental. He always returns to his pragmatic core. The second part of the book consists of the practical rules for cultivating deep work by avoiding excessive distractions in an Internet age. He urges readers to quit unnecessary social media since they are “engineered to be addictive — robbing time and attention from activities that more directly support your professional and personal goals.”Subscription11.1

Such rules are well thought out and useful. However, they can be a bit too mechanical when, for example, he ardently promotes certain methods that worked for him such as scheduling every minute of the day. He even admits that he may have taken his methods to the extreme by turning himself into “a deep work machine.”

Newport’s shallow approach makes it easy to consider his work just one more quit-clicking start-working pep talk. It can provide some momentary inspiration with its account of the journey of one superhuman man and a yes-you-can-do-it-too commentary.

However, it does not answer the deeper spiritual question: why are people distracted and unable to concentrate? Thus, his book easily risks becoming a distraction itself — a kind of pit stop of radical methods that people can talk about before going back to their daily Internet and social media fixes.

The Soulless Drink for the Man-Machine


gears-1236578_960_720New Soylent Drink of Doubtful Nutritional Value,

But it Certainly Leaves the Soul Empty

Ever think you’d see a fast-food place where people could ingest meals like a car gets filled with gas? Like a fast-food place on fast forward.

Well, we’re a step closer to the one-stop human feeding station. Today, there is a new shake supplement called Soylent that would supposedly eliminate the need to eat regular food.

In an article on his web site titled How I Stopped Eating Food, Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old software engineer from Atlanta, tells how and why he invented a one-drink-fits-all. He said he studied what nutrients the body absolutely needs, blended them into a tasteless, bland, beige-colored drink and did away with normal food for 30 days.

Motivation for Not Eating Food

His motivation?

“Not having to worry about food is fantastic. No groceries or dishes, no deciding what to eat, no endless conversations weighing the relative merits of gluten-free, keto, paleo, or vegan. Power and water bills are lower. I save hours a day and hundreds of dollars a month.

“The proportions in Soylent are loosely based off the recommendations of the FDA, though I added a couple extras and changed a few based on my testing. Here is what the body needs.”

For Rhinehart, eating is about efficiency and supplying what the body needs.

Really?

While there is an evident nutritional need attached to eating, there is more to food than nutrition. I’m no nutritional expert and won’t comment on Mr. Rhinehart’s Soylent drink from that perspective. But what about the cultural aspect of food?

Food as a Cultural Measuring Stick

The food we make and eat is an expression of our culture. In every society and epoch, food has been an infallible cultural measuring stick.

Unfortunately, over the decades, America has lost some aspects of culture to achieve ever greater production, efficiency and standardization. This is especially true in the area of cuisine. For example, 25% of Americans eat fast food every day, and 20% of all meals are eaten in a car. Our mass culture has produced a mass cuisine.

Eating_RomanIn his book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society–Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go, John Horvat II offers a solution to the mass culture. He points to an organic Christian society, where people are not looked upon as statistics, or as cogs in the giant wheel of a great machine to produce material things.

In an organic society, material production aims at not only supplying basic physical needs, but also to satisfy higher desires and spiritual appetites for beauty, excellence, or refinement.

Such higher desires correspond to man’s constant desire to discover ways to better his situation. Everyone needs to eat. Any food can fill our stomachs. Even Soylent can do this.

But we find a special joy when we are given delicious or well-presented food that suits our tastes. This delight corresponds to the higher spiritual element of production, which gives to the product those intangible things that please the soul and aid in the practice of virtue.

Generally speaking, there is a physical and spiritual dimension to any need, which varies in intensity from person to person. To the degree that both dimensions are satisfied, production accomplishes its purpose.

A meal prepared with proper care can be a platform and opportunity for better things like good conversation and bonding. A family-owned restaurant that serves a simple spaghetti and meatball dish on a crisp, clean tablecloth offers an experience that pleases the palate and the soul. This is even more so when the cook prepares a more refined dish, such as leg of lamb, with kale and mashed potatoes. If you add a glass of wine to it, the meal climbs to an even higher level.

In contrast, I highly doubt that soylent satisfies even our basic nutritional needs. It does however meet the practical needs of the man-machine to fill his stomach. It’s fast and cheap. But it leaves souls on empty.

Unique Life in an Organic Society

Organic Christian society is the exact opposite of the mass culture that produces a mass drink for the man-machine man such as Soylent. It is a society that comes about when each family, each region, each person seeks to develop their own uniqueness to perfection.

It is “organic” because this order does not treat people like parts in a machine but as living and unique beings with all the complex and nuanced elements that are part of unique life.

From the concept of organic, we can consider characteristics that spring from living things: spontaneity, vitality and creativity.

Return to Order presents and celebrates these characteristics as a refreshing contrast to mass culture, where the food, clothing and customs can be monotonous and vulgar.

To discover more about the fascinating concept of an organic Christian society, please see:

10 Outstanding Traits of an Organic Christian Society


The Return of the Absent Clockmaker

clock-700870_960_720

“As ‘clockmaker,’ all God had to do was wind up the original clock and leave.”

At a certain point in modern times, it was decided that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, should stay out of the business of running the world he created. Supposedly, men could do it much better without him.

All this was done, mind you, with a certain amount of tact and propriety so as not to overly offend God or those who believed in him. It was decided that God would be given the title of the maker of a clock, where the clock was a great mechanical universe. As“clockmaker,” all God had to do was wind up the original clock and leave. Men would take over from there.

 

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That is what happened at the dawn of modern times. All were suddenly consumed with the frenzied action of the Industrial Revolution. Progress and technology were installed upon God’s empty throne and people everywhere worked to transform the world by constructing huge networks of big machines and devices that would control and conquer the nature God had created. Soon giant systems, huge factories and management practices churned out an astounding array of abundant goods and services as never seen before. People looked upon what they had done and proclaimed that the future would permit unlimited growth and happiness.




People too became enmeshed in the production processes of this great machinery. In fact, the machine became the model for getting things done. No field of human action was exempt from change, so as to impel people to act like machines or computers. Everything was simplified, planned, and engineered to adapt to the machine and subsequently minimize individuality and maximize efficiency.

In their daily lives, people were encouraged to imitate the efficient action of machines by adopting standardized methods. This can be seen in the development of bureaucracy, teaching methods, advertising and public relations procedures. In this way, the person was transformed, so to speak, from an organism to a mechanism inside this great scheme of things. With every material need supplied, it was supposed that this new planned way of life would make everyone happy and pave the way to a bright new future.

Humans are not cogs in a machine1

“It does not function with the rigid exactitude required by a machine.”

The only problem is that the universe is not this giant mechanical clock. It does not function with the rigid exactitude required by a machine. Despite all efforts of control, natural disasters unpredictably happen. The universe does not fit into all the neat categories determined by science. A world of wonder and unfathomable mystery exists, which is full of meaning and purpose that cannot be expressed by formulae and spreadsheets.

A much more important consideration is that people are not mechanisms. They are living and unique beings. As such, they are capable of pondered choices, unending creativity, and varied rhythms not found in machines. Life is spontaneous, unpredictable and nuanced, full of vitality, poetry, and passion.

These realities clash with the clock-world where all is reduced to the mechanical properties of mass, utility, and movement in space. People find it difficult to live in a universe stripped of all metaphysical meaning, symbolism, beauty and purpose. Nothing makes sense when all is supposedly an endless flux of aimless and blind causation. In other words, the mechanical clock-universe that God did not make is unintelligible to the intelligent creatures that he did create for himself.

It is no wonder then that modern systems have not worked according to plan. Technology and science have done much to improve life but have not solved all the world’s problems or delivered paradise on earth. Machines have made life more comfortable but they have also been turned against humanity and caused much devastation. Huge mechanical wars broke out and others now loom on the horizon. Materialistic ideologies like communism and socialism have arisen with the goal of constructing “perfect systems that liberate,” but end up enslaving.

crowd-1056764_960_720

“Despite unprecedented opportunities for entertainment, pleasure, and excitement, happiness from these proves elusive.”

But worse than the failure of modern systems is the great sadness that has descended on so many of those living in the mechanical universe that God did not make. Despite unprecedented opportunities for entertainment, pleasure, and excitement, happiness from these proves elusive. This materialistic universe cannot address the profound spiritual void inside the soul of postmodern man, now causing so much frustration and desolation inside the stress of today’s hurried living.

The lesson should be clear: a more organic approach should at least be tried. Sadly, each new crisis in the mechanical universe that God did not make only begets greater mechanical “solutions,” calling for more and even bigger systems and programs. No doubt, massive government programs and economic stimulus packages will take care of everything! The right mix of more technology, progress, and luck will supposedly make people happy again.

The frustration with this system is reaching a high point in America and the world because the machines are now breaking down. More to the point, people, families and societies are breaking down. But instead of addressing the real issues, there are still those who delude themselves into thinking that solutions can be found by merely tweaking the mechanical universe that God did not make.

“Bring in the technocrats, central bankers and experts!” They cry. “The right team will fixSubscription8.1 the machines and return everything to order so we can live comfortably once more.”

Alas, a return to order can only happen if things function according to their nature. This would call for a return to a marvelous concept of the universe full of metaphysics and beauty that reflects the Creator. It would involve treating people as beings endowed with immortal souls. This would fill the spiritual void that haunts postmodernity and would give lives meaning and purpose. Then, beings created to pursue a spiritual heaven could overcome the frustration of today’s frantic attempts to construct an earthly paradise.

This can only be done by calling upon the absent “Clockmaker” in prayer and returning Him to His throne as ruler of the great and marvelous universe that He did create, and knows well how to govern with His loving Providence.

As seen on crisismagazine.com

When Technology Mediates Reality

When Technology Mediates Reality

“One only need look at people engrossed on their phones in a busy airport”

Everyone perceives there is something wrong with the excessive use of electronic devices. One only need look at people engrossed on their phones in a busy airport to perceive some kind of imbalance is at play.

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The reason why such situations are unbalanced is that a person must have some kind of direct contact with reality to exercise common sense and moral judgments. When technology comes in between people and the things around them, very important nuances and details are lost. Technology mediates reality forcing the person to rely upon a second hand experience to make important judgments that affect relationships and society.




Thus, while a text message may get an idea across to another person, it omits an enormous amount of information. By its short and quick nature of the medium, it is hard to transmit personal moods, emotions and dispositions. It is easy to omit or ignore them. A thought is thus reduced to the bare and brutal minimum. To the extent that people rely only on technology, they tend to reduce reality to abstractions, which are the means by which technology can be expressed.

Sociologist Richard Stivers, in his book, Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a RTO-Audiobook-AD-medium-resTechnological Society, describes well what happens. He writes that “reality is sensuous, symbolic, and utterly ambiguous. To interpret reality I must bypass technology with a personal knowledge of history, culture, and other people. To the extent that I rely on technology, I reduce history, culture, and other people to local categories and statistics.”

Discouraging the Rise of Heroes

4233871770_85d5b0a794 copyWe live in an age of self-interest where each looks after his own pleasure and gratification. Ours is a culture that glorifies comfort, safety and health. It exudes carefree optimism, giving us the mistaken impression that we can somehow have perfect material happiness in this valley of tears. In such a climate, the hero seems to reproach society by engaging in risky adventures which most “sensible” people avoid.

Indeed, modernity does much to discourage such heroes from gaining too much influence. Robert Nisbet writes that, “The acids of modernity, which include equalitarianism, skepticism, and institutionalized ridicule in the popular arts, have eaten away much of the base on which heroism flourished.”

Yet another factor in the decline of heroes is what he calls “technology’s reorganization of the world has brought with it a certain built-in disenchantment.” (Robert Nisbet, Twilight of Authority, Indianapolis, Liberty Fund, 2000, p. 98.)


Subscription8.11That is to say that there must be a degree of enchantment and admiration for heroes and their feats to flourish. When technology dominates a culture, it turns the focus of fascination towards itself and away from the feats of men.

 

 

Christmas Outside the Box

Christmas Outside the BoxAs I was reading an article on an online news site, I chanced upon an advertisement for a beautiful Christmas tree. Indeed, it was an actual Christmas tree, not a holiday, winter or sparkle tree that celebrates some unknown winter solstice festivity.

This letter unapologetically used the word Christmas and the tree actually looked inviting enough to conger up memories of Christmases past. In a nanosecond of Christmas spirit, I clicked upon the attractive image and learned about how I might acquire a similar tree for home or office.

The tree, it turns out, is a high-tech artificial pre-lit tree that can be sent to your home in a box, wheeled into your living room and assembled in less than three minutes. Once assembled using its easy-to-use illustrated instructions, you have nothing left to do but activate the lights with the remote control (batteries included) and stand back to enjoy the stunning beauty of your instant Christmas tree experience.


It would seem there is no easier way to go on the offensive in today’s cultural war on Christmas than to fill all places with such trees in any of its six varieties and deck the halls with boughs of synthetic holly!

Far be it for me to criticize any Christmas tree, real or otherwise. In the present cultural climate, any tree that calls itself Christmas is a victory over politically-correct conformity. However, I cannot help but think that this pre-lit ready-to-use boxed Christmas tree with its “miracle” technology is a fitting symbol of where we have gone wrong in our culture and its celebration of Christ’s birth.

We live in a culture of instant gratification where we must have everything right away and effortlessly. This does not only involve indulging in sensual delights but also our experience of wholesome and uplifting things like Christmas trees.

In our frenzied desire for instant and effortless mass consumption 24/7, we have engaged in what I call the “frenetic intemperance” of throwing off legitimate restraints and engaging in consumption that ignores those cultural and spiritual values that normally serve to temper and give meaning to life.

We have built, it is true, a vast market system that is undoubtedly convenient, plentiful, and inexpensive. Yet, in the process, we have sacrificed that human touch that so delights and enriches us. In the name of maximizing efficiency and increasing consumer convenience, a spirit of dreary sameness descends upon the markets. The result is boxes upon boxes of nearly identical high-tech pre-lit trees that lack soul.

It is this human element that is so essential to the traditional Christmas tree. The spiritual act of creating a unique and marvelous tree still leads millions of Americans to buy real trees and decorated them with a hodge-podge of ornaments and lights. It is precisely the time spent together decorating and the extra effort involved that makes the real Christmas tree so special and memorable…and what makes the three-minute pop-up tree so utterly forgettable.

This human element also confers authenticity and meaning upon the Christmas tree because it becomes an expression of those who prepare it. It gives rise to the creativity of traditional ornaments and wholesome traditions. In other words, the human element brings about true culture and not the pre-packaged substitutes found in so many of today’s sterile shopping malls..

Of course, our problem is not just Christmas trees but a whole culture of unrestraint that has invaded all fields. It leads to rushed schedules and stress-filled lives caused by our impatience with time and space based on the idea that nothing should stand between ourselves and the objects of our gratification. Tethered to our mobile devices, we are constantly feeding a restless desire for new sensations, stimuli and thrills. When you must have everything instantly and effortlessly, there is the temptation to turn the Christmas season into one more of those sensations. We are encouraged to buy the instant Christmas tree experience rather than experience that special instant called Christmas.

Subscription13Amid such noisy distractions, there is little time to reflect upon the true peace of Christmas; it is easy to lose track of the “reason for the season”—the birth of the Christ Child. In the manger in Bethlehem, we can find the balm that will sooth our agitated souls and take solace, “For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us.”(Is. 9:6)

Christmas invites us to reflect upon those things that really matter. In a Christmas-tree-in-a-box culture, it invites us to think outside the box.

 

Living Longer…But Not Better

dirt robotBy Ben Broussard*

Modern technologies have led to incredible advances toward the longevity of the average person. With the advent of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution, advances in food transportation and breakthroughs in medical care have over time given rise to great increases in population throughout the world. Infant mortality and childhood deaths have plummeted while greater numbers now live into their eighties and nineties, greatly increasing the life expectancy of those alive today.

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Taking in the breadth of human history, it is astounding the shear scope of the advances made within the last 150 years. Yet as impressive as this progress has been, given the advances of technology, there remains one problem, which innovators have been incapable of solving: the inevitability of death.

A Modern Quest for Immortality

However, according to a recent article in Newsweek, wealthy Silicon Valley investors are intent in solving the dilemma of human mortality. Millions of dollars are being donated to groups like the Methuselah Foundation, which has the ambitious goal of “creating a world where 90-year-olds can be as healthy as 50-year-olds—by 2030.” Other projects seem like something straight from science fiction, like the 2045 Initiative that seeks to replace human bodies with robotic avatars.

Critics of this movement are quick to denounce it as quixotic, only putting off what is a certainty. Yet others are jumping on the bandwagon, theorizing how lifespans of 100, 200, or 1,000 years will change everything we know.

Paradise on Earth?

In his magnum opus Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira warned of an ongoing process aimed toward creating a Revolutionary utopia:

In such a world, the Redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ has no place, for man will have overcome evil with science and will have made the earth a technologically delightful paradise. And he will hope to overcome death one day by the indefinite prolongation of life.”1


The current push for longer and longer lifespans and an end to death will not lead to paradise…or at least, any paradise which has any resemblance to the actual paradise: the Beatific Vision of Heaven.

Modern man, just like his forebears, must come to face reality: each one of us will die at some point, whether it be a century from now or in a matter of moments. No matter how good our lives may be here on earth, there is no possible way of attaining the eternal beatitude of the Celestial Paradise without death. When we die, our bodies soon begin to decay, but our souls live on.

No Concern for the Soul

The Church has perennially recommended for men to reflect on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Our lives on earth, whether short or long, determine how we will spend the eternity. From a natural perspective, our works live on after we pass, primarily through our descendants and the legacy of our deeds.

Yet with time human memories fade. Every thought, word and deed from our first to last moments on this earth will be accounted for by Almighty God, a fact which made our ancestors take life very seriously, knowing any breath could be the last. This serious truth helped to form countless individuals who took life seriously and thus yielded the greatest achievements of Christian civilization.

The present efforts attempting to eliminate death negates any possibility of there even Subscription5.3being a heaven, and thus any possible reason to live according to the Ten Commandments and follow the moral law. Until God’s plan for life and for death is once again taken seriously by individuals and society at large, people will continue living longer…but not better.

1Plinio Corrêa De Oliveira, Revolution and Counter-Revolution. 3rd ed. York, PA: American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, 1993. 67-68.

Do Social Media Always Help Connect Us with Others?


new_home_peope_isolatedAs the pace of life quickens, many people have recourse to social media and its technology to stay connected. They reason that social media facilitates their ability to connect over time and distance. However, that same technology has the disadvantage of increasing the volume and pace of messages that continually bombard them making it increasingly difficult to keep up.

At the same time, social media tends to make shallow links since many now come to use this technology to connect at a distance not with a single friend or acquaintance but with huge number of real friends and superficial “friends” all at the same time. Such broadcasting of messages tends to diminish intimacy and nuance from relationships.

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Sociologist Sherry Turkle explains how this connectivity can also lead to isolation. She describes the situation of what is being called “postfamilial family,” where much of family intimacy is lost. She notes, “Their members are alone together, each in their own rooms, each on a networked computer or mobile device. We go online because we are busy but end up spending more time with technology and less with each other. We defend connectivity as a way to be close, even as we effectively hide from each other.” Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, New York, Basic Books, 2011, p. 280-281.