When serious Catholics think of dangers connected with the internet, they might be apt to think first of things like pornography. If they know the Catholic moral tradition well, they might also think of gossip. That tradition tells us that detraction–trafficking in unflattering information about other people–is a sin, yet how many websites are devoted almost entirely to this very purpose? What we probably don’t think about first, but what does deserve some consideration, is the danger posed by the internet quite apart from its sinful uses. In other words, the danger that by becoming habituated to the overuse of the internet we diminish our minds and crowd out other important activities and experiences.
Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times has a good column on this very topic, under the humorous title, “How a Demon ipad Stole my Summer Vacation.” He recalls how in the past his vacation was really more a vacation, because he was almost totally inaccessible to his work. There was no e-mail to check, no news websites to read, so he read novels and spent time playing games with his family. No more. While we’re on this topic we could observe that by the very same process the internet has vastly changed (and I would say not for the better) our experience of the weekend and even of evenings at home away from work.
McManus does not just leave it at his personal experience of internet overuse, but he also cites some studies about the phenomenon. Here are some of the interesting ones he mentions.
- “As early as 2008, Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” was warning that broadband Internet was reducing our attention spans and making us stupid. The Web, he said, encourages us to lapse into our “natural state of distractedness.””
- “And last year, researchers at UC Irvine reported that employees who were unplugged from their email got more work done — and experienced far less stress.”
We tend to think of technology as nothing more than a tool. but as some astute philosophers have observed, it is more than that, because it commonly changes the way we live, or changes our way of being, which is coming pretty close to changing what we are. The more technology we have, and the more sophisticated it is, the more it will take careful thought and deliberate effort for us to use it while not permitting it to transform us into something we shouldn’t want to be.