In the previous post on State of Distraction, we looked at how cell phones distract us from self-reflection. In this post, we examine how technology distracts us from fully engaging in reality, and how this affects our quality of life.
Giussani writes in Religious Sense about what makes our elementary human experience. He argues that at the core of our humanity, the core of ourselves, lies a hunger for answering the ultimate questions. Who are we? What is our purpose? What is the meaning of life? These questions burn inside us, and to live a fulfilled life, we must devote ourselves to answering them. Living fully requires that we are engaged with all aspects of our life–engaged in all aspects of reality. “This includes everything–love, study, politics, money, even food and rest, excluding nothing, neither friendship, nor hope, nor pardon, nor anger, nor patience. Within every single gesture lies a step towards our own destiny.”
To sum up the previous paragraph, in order to live a full life, we must be completely engaged with the reality of life. In more modern language, we must be fully present in everything we do. It’s easy to lose sight of this in 21st-century life. For one, most of us live very busy lifestyles, constantly running from one activity to another. However, I think we can still live rich, fulfilled lives while being busy. A more eminent problem facing us is how we have become distracted from reality. I would like to argue that the increasing presence and vividness of technology is causing us to lose sight of reality, leading to disengaged and unsatisfying lives.
This may seem a bit extreme at first, but let’s look at some specific examples. Compare the video games of the 1980’s with those of today. Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga were (and still are, in my opinion) a blast, but they consist of moving a pixilated figure around a 2-dimensional, black screen. In modern games you navigate entire worlds, playing the part of well developed characters in vivid, often violent scenarios. Television has progressed from a few black and white channels to thousands of channels in HD, containing movies and shows of any genre possible. Entire seasons of new shows are being released on Netflix and Hulu, enabling the habit of binging on shows for hours at a time. (Who doesn’t love a 3-hour marathon of 30 rock!) Lastly, phones and tablets allow complete connectedness to the internet at all times.
You may wonder why this matters, what’s inherently wrong with these things? I’m not going to say that the progression of video games and television are evil. But think about this; how long could you spend playing pong or Pac-Man, or watching shows on a 15-inch, box TV with basic cable channels? I can’t picture myself being entertained by these things for very long. We would enjoy them for a while, then get bored and do something else–talk to family, read a book, take a walk outside, make some tea and think about things. In other words, we would get back to living in reality.
The problem with entertainment technology today is that it has become so vivid and real that we don’t get bored. We don’t realize that we’ve been staring at a screen, watching fake characters or moving a joystick for hours. The distractions are so powerful and convenient that we choose to be spectators of an artificial reality instead of engaging in our own. This causes us to lead only a partial life, one that leaves us feeling empty and longing, instead of fulfilled and satisfied. I like to come back to how I feel after a marathon Call of Duty session. My eyes are blurry, reality is a haze, and having a conversation is difficult. Not to mention the underlying anger at having wasted hours of my life.
How does one get past this in the 21st century? The answer is simple, yet putting it into practice will be the greatest challenge. We need to start being present and living all aspects of our lives with sincere interest, as Giussani said in the opening quote. It won’t be easy. But if we do this, we may rediscover humanity in the midst of our technological age.