How New Media Are Destroying Our Lives

smartphone alan wangPlato worried that the new media called “writing” would ruin our memories – and he was right.

“If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.”

Martin Heidegger and other philosophers worried that the typewriter would make our thinking more mechanical. They were right, too.

Each new medium has diminished man a little – radio made us expect to be entertained all the time; television hurt our ability to concentrate – even as each has added scope, ease and distance to his ability to communicate with others.

The Church has promoted each new medium (from radio onward, anyway), and it should – focusing on the good a new media can do, despite the risks. (Tomorrow, I will post: “How New Media Can Enhance Our Lives”.)

June 1 is World Communications Day, and Pope Francis properly promotes today’s even newer media in his World Communications Address … but first, he explains some of the drawbacks.

I’ve noticed some too.

smartphone christmas diana shnuth

Cameraphones  ruin moments, forever. A recent study says so but we all already know it. In the middle of quality time with our family, we scramble for our phone such that we focus not on the beautiful, moving, enriching moments, but on the self-referential act of capturing them. Then we take a picture that never gets printed, and rarely gets seen, and are left with a compromised memory of a compromised event on top of it.



Facebook is training in narcissism. The exaggerated feelings of self-importance a narcissist feels make the world feel like a movie starring them. So does Facebook. It forces us to recast activities in our mind in marketing language that will make them seem fascinating to others. We don’t just go to the park with our kids looking to enjoy each others company, we go to the park with our kids looking for a sharable moment. We hate the way TMZ treats celebrities’ personal lives; we are the TMZ of our own life on Facebook.


restaurant ulf bodin

TVs in restaurants tell us our lives are inadequately interesting. It used to be that you had to go to a sports bar if you wanted to watch TV in public. Now TVs seem to be everywhere. Their message is clear: You, and what you have to say, is not quite interesting enough to sustain the attention of the person you are with. They need distractions to bear being with you. And television, a world where everyone is an entertainer, is the distraction par excellence.


jane fader

That pornography is now commonplace teaches us that others exist for our pleasure.  Real people have personalities, needs and demands. They require affection and appreciation and gratitude. Moments in which they allow our desires and wishes to dominate their actions and thoughts only come when we are willing to do the same for them. But pornography creates a fantasy world in which all of that “realness” seems intolerably tedious and virtual sex slaves become our new ideal of pleasure. Or, in other words, it expands the television world where everyone is an entertainer into our most intimate lives.



Smart phones’ browsers replace wonder and memory with Google search skills. Instant gratification of our material desires leaves us unable to build long-term, long-lasting satisfaction over time. We grow impatient with every pleasure that isn’t in our reach.  Instant intellectual gratification does the same thing to our minds. Before, if we wanted to know who directed Twelve Angry Men or whose picture is on the two dollar bill or how many feet are in a mile, we either had to use our memories, ask a friend, or make a conscious decision not to care. Now we can Google it from wherever we are and what Plato feared from writing is true to a horrifying degree: Our memories are truncated and our wonder is fading away.


att&T love stories

Together, all of this gives smartphones a creepy outsized  place in our lives. Friends have always been invaluable: They are there to assist us, divert us, coax us to generosity, and lend an extra brain where necessary. Friends are still invaluable, but phones have inserted themselves into large swaths of the territory loved ones once occupied.

Our phone is the first thing we interact with in the morning and the last thing we interact with at night. Our phone catches us up on the news over breakfast, and we need our phone to capture our moments during the day to fill the newsfeeds of our lives. Our phone has games to divert us, and is a portablewindow into the the world of entertainers that exists for our pleasure that we need to escape into.

We can relate to AT&T’s new commercials and almost miss how creepy they are: People talk about the phones in their history as if they were people.

So … what could possibly be good about all this? Tune in tomorrow …


Categories:Culture Media Pope Francis Social Media Video

  • JayD

    Great post! Thanks, Tom. The Pope’s comment about our cameras reminded me of an interview with Michael J Fox by Reader’s Digest a few years ago. As Fox’s health declines and he’s learning to treasure his time with his family, he’s begun to eschew cameras as a way to capture the moment for posterity, in favor of enjoying the moment in person.

  • portlandcatholic

    Why does the Pope or anyone else believe we should integrate technology into our lives when the negatives clearly outweigh the positives? A generation raised on little more than sound bytes of information is not fertile ground for living out the Gospel.

  • Brad Utpadel

    Marshall McLuhan, a Catholic Convert, in his 1962 “Gutenberg Galaxy”, had some prophetic insight into media and technology and its impact on us. Great article Tom.

  • Rebecca Teti

    Good post! Here’s a question, though. What if the effects you accurately describe here are not a function of technology, but of wealth and ease? Here is Tocqueville describing “us” long before the advent of the radio, the tv or the smart phone:

    “I want to imagine with what new features despotism could be produced in the world: I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn and apart, is like a stranger to the destiny of all the others: his children and his particular friends form the whole human species for him; as for dwelling with his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he does not see them; he touches them and does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone, and if a family still remains for him, one can at least say that he no longer has a native country.”

    To what would you attribute Tocqueville’s ability to see what our lives would be like long before distracting gadgets were on the scene?

    • Tom Hoopes

      Great point. The Great Gatsby and his friends fell into the same traps, and they didn’t have Instagram.

  • Daniel

    It would be funny if, at the bottom of this article, it said, “Sent from my iPhone”.

    • Joshua Mercer

      haha! Well said!

  • Pat

    Just a few words…THANK YOU!



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