There was a time, decades ago when the world was divided between those who were online and offline. Rich people could afford the shiny new gadgets that connected them with everyone. Poor people were left in an analog wasteland on the other side of the digital divide. Social justice warriors of the time demanded internet access as a fundamental human right.
Times have changed and yet remained much the same. The world is still divided between those who are online and offline. Screens are now everywhere, and most poor people have the gadgets needed to connect them with the virtual world.
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However, rich people are now weaning themselves from their gadgets and insisting upon face time with real people. Living offline is now a sign of status and luxury as rich people forego joining the online masses and insist upon human interaction. The New York Times recently noted that “human contact is now a luxury good.” Social justice warriors now demand that poor people be freed from digital oppression.
A World of Screens
Fads and fashions come and go, showing how shallow and insignificant they are. Liberals, however, remain the same as they never lose an opportunity to push their class struggle narrative. Oppression used to mean having too few computers. Now it is having too many screens.
Indeed, the screens are ubiquitous. They are replacing humans in restaurants, stores, classrooms and hospitals. The framework of the internet connects everything to everything. New AI assistants now talk convincingly with users. Self-driving cars are just around the corner. Email, the Internet and GPS are free and accessible to all.
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It would seem that everyone should want to belong to this brave new world which will make everything easier, faster and automated. All of this should make everyone happier and more equal. However, there is something ominous with this new screen scenario that is causing the new digital divide.
Something Wrong Online
The telltale sign that something is wrong is that the children of Silicon Valley executives are going to low-tech schools. Their parents keep them away from the digital tablets they created and insist that their children play with building blocks. The technocrats know something that the rest of the world does not.
A landmark study of 11,000 children supported by the National Institutes of Health is finding that overexposure to screens is harmful to brain development and can cause depression and stress. In addition, high tech companies and social media giants are using psychological techniques and neurological data to find ways to keep young viewers online and addicted to their screens.
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Children are not the only ones affected by this addiction. Adults are also glued to their phones and addicted to social media. Study after study shows how social media projects an unreal image of the person, who feels the stress of living up to that image. Journalist Nicholas Carr’s troubling book, The Shallows, documents the way overexposure to screens is rewiring the human brain to diminish the experience of “human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.”
As much as most people hate to admit it, the world of screens is harming individuals and society. Screens could well become the new tobacco and opioids crises since high-tech companies are engaged in promoting addictive behaviors to the detriment of self and community.
The Move Offline
Thus, there is a backlash against the cybernetic intrusion into daily lives. In the face of online stress, many are looking for ways to make their experiences more human. More affluent people now favor leisure travel, education and dining over spending on shiny new gadgets to occupy their lives.
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Suddenly, the media are saying that anything that involves the human touch is in fashion. Living without screens, social media and email can be a status symbol among certain sectors of the wealthy, who do not need to be online. Conspicuous human interaction signals the ability to pay for more human-intensive experiences far from the virtual, and very lonely, cyber-crowds.
However, the media also report that the poor are condemned to their screens. Education, health care and shopping have all been computerized to such an extent that the poor are locked into these systems. They cannot afford the human contact of the rich.
A Simple and Inexpensive Choice
Such a conclusion is false and deceptive. While the drive to connect to computer screens did involve great amounts of money in the early days, the effort to disconnect need not cost anything.
The decision to disconnect from needless connections can be decided by a simple and inexpensive “no.” Face time with others is as easy as looking up from one’s iPhone. Breaking out of the social media sequestration is always just a few clicks away.
While no one can be completely offline these days, anyone can opt out of the worst parts of the digital world. Anyone can fill the void with true leisure, conversation, prayer or silence. These things, like the Internet, are free and accessible to all.
Those Who Admire the Good, True and Beautiful
The world is not divided between those who are online and offline. Fads and fashions come and go, and they cannot serve as true dividers of society.
It is much better to say that the world has always been divided between those who love and admire the good, the true and the beautiful and those who do not. These latter allow themselves to be taken up by the frenetic intemperance of the day. They chase after every craze that happens to be in vogue. They will switch from one mania to another to impress others or gratify their passions. They will be forever restless.
The admirers of truth allow themselves to be taken up by the love of God, the Truth Who can neither deceive or be deceived. They will always find ways to fill their lives with meaning and purpose. They find peace in the silence and solitude of their hearts, far from the agitation of the times.