The Personalist Project

Between intensive training for a bike challenge, traveling to and from France, and transitioning to New Hampshire, I'm afraid last month's Reading Circle fell by the wayside. 

Yesterday I belatedly posted the recording of my introduction to the two articles on the theme of "Persons, Friendship & Technology." 

One thought, central to both pieces, is that unlike real friendships, virtual friendships are risk-free. They enable us to connect with others while hiding ourselves and keeping others at a safe, managable distance. We are not exposed and vulnerable, the way we are in face-to-face encounters. Not much trust is required and no deep betrayal is possible. And if we are no longer interested in a connection, or if it becomes problematic in some way, we can simply "unfriend" the other or delete our account. Virtual connections have few real consequences, and involve very little responsibility.

All this may be fine up to a point. But when virtual relationships begin to predominate in our lives, when they no longer serve but begin to replace real friendships, they become a threat to our wellbeing. Persons will be impoverished and become weakened in their selfhood. They will lack the robust self-standing that enables us to bear reality, including the reality of genuine friendships. Here is a passage from Turkle expressing the point:

in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

I find Scruton and Turkle very convincing when it comes to the dangers posed by these new communication technologies. But what about the postives? Is it not true that these new ways of connecting with other people answer a genuine need? Is it not true that for all sorts of reasons (especially the invention of the car) people are more isolated from one another than ever before? That the opportunities for face-to-face encounters are very few, and the internet a partial but nonetheless welcome remedy for the situation?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this or any other aspect related to the topic.  Member feed is open for those who may have more to say than can easily fit within the space allowed for comments.

Comments (8)

Tim Cronin

#1, Jul 16, 2012 12:31pm

Jules, I've been thinking about technology, place, and persons a lot lately. My most recent thinking has been on the relationship between Plato's allegory of the cave and how our lives are so mediated by screens and technology. I sit in front of a screen all day in an air conditioned cubicle and desire instead to be out in the open with fresh air. It seems technology isolates us from community more often than not.

Tim Cronin

#2, Jul 16, 2012 4:15pm

I agree that the vehicle which enabled us to transcend our bodily limits of travel was what most radically altered our communities and that the internet might be a way of trying to correct technology with technology. Part of our problem is however to always look for a technological solution to problems even when technology created the problem. A good author on technology is George Grant "Technology & Empire"

Katie van Schaijik

#3, Jul 16, 2012 4:36pm

I feel torn on this issue, because everything Turkle and Scruton say seems to me true.  I experience it as true.  And yet, on the other hand, I also experience genuine (albeit reduced-in-fulnes) friendship, community, and intellectual exchange on the internet.  I would feel bereft without them.  Outside my immediate family, most of my "3D" encounters are either wretchedly superficial, or too infrequent to alleviate loneliness.

Being a person who constantly craves conversation on substantive topics, I often find myself exhausted and enervated by the usual exchanges of practical life.  But once you graduate from college and move away from home, it's not easy to find and form deep friendships.  Given the way our society is arranged, with people so far-flung and pre-occupied, we are truly suffering a terrible dearth of communion.

The internet provides at least a partial remedy, though I see it can easily tend to aggravate the "existential vacuum" it pretends to fill.

Definitely we have to learn to conscientiously order it to the good of persons.

Rhett Segall

#4, Jul 16, 2012 7:56pm

Jules' presentation on the articles recalls a favorite phrase of Dvh: "habitare secum", to dwell with one's self.

I am reminded here of the following stories. (They may be apocryphal.)

A distraught person consults a psychologist about his poor relations with his family and co-workers. The psychologist advises him to spend a day just by himself. The following week the fellow tells the psychologist that his suggestion didn't help very much.

"How did you spend the day?" the psychologist asked.

"Oh, I read some books, wrote some letters, listened to the radio."

"No. you don't understand. I want you to be just by your self-do nothing."

"Do nothing!" the fellow said."I'll go crazy if I do nothing!"

"If you can't live with your self" replied the psychologist, "how do you expect others to live with you."

The second story is about Carl Jung. A frantic client pleaded for a session.

"Sorry" said the famous psychiatrist. "I have another appointment."

A short time later the client sees Jung on the beach.

"But Doctor" says the fellow "you told me you  had an appointment"

"I did and do" said Jung-"With myself".

Tim Cronin

#5, Jul 16, 2012 9:36pm

I don't think we need to discard technology all together but we must realize that it is not neutral and then something we can either use immorally or morally. It shapes us and our relationships. This is my favorite website and I enjoy "visiting". But ultimately I think God wants us bodily visting others in our community and even becoming familiar with the soil, grass, plants and animals in the communities in which we live. Speaking of visiting imagine the blessing it was to have a visitor in Jesus' time. For instance Mary visiting Elizabeth. Mary likely walked or took a donkey to the hill country of Judah. The effort involved in getting there spoke of her love for Elizabeth. Today there are walkathons for cures but typically we don't walk to each other.

Katie van Schaijik

#6, Jul 17, 2012 9:12am

Tim, that's a good way of putting it: "It's not neutral."

Rhett, I like that too: "to dwell with oneself."

John Brooks Randle

#7, Jul 22, 2012 7:57pm

I am sorry that I do not know how to start a new topic. However, because Jules began talking about the Reading Circle, this seems an appropriate place to begin talking about the next 11 August Reading Circle. Jules can move this recommendation to a new topic, if he so chooses.

For a good analysis of this book, see Thomas Howard's Chapter Six "Till We Have Faces: The Uttermost Farthing" in C. S. Lewis Man of Letters (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987)

Pulling this book from the beloved Lewis section of my bookshelves, I looked for any marginal annotations. My first was written upon beginning to reread the book on 23 October 2008. The quote in the first sentence of the third paragraph on page 8, "Fox... ashamed of loving poetry... I had to work... reading, writing and... philosophy in order to get a poem out of him." inspired my annotation, "I too love poetry, reading, writing and philosophy, and do not feel shame, but do keep this love hidden for the mockery it engenders."

Katie and Jules and other members of this site share this love, and here we do not have to keep it hidden.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Jul 23, 2012 9:14pm

Thanks for the tip, John.  We've gotten down our copy of Man of Letters.  I look forward to reading chapter 6 tonight.

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