Perils of the Internet

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.



  • F.R. Duplantier

    When first I was her suitor,
    She said no one was cuter;
    But now I find
    That I’ve been blind:
    She’s in love with her computer!

  • Sue

    As a mom whose kids have flown the nest and has too many hours at home by herself (despite a social life and several volunteering positions), I struggle with this, too. Am trying to cut way back on mindless time wasted on the Internet. Husband and I just spent Labor Day out of town and consciously did not watch television (his time-waster), nor did I take my IPad. It was liberating! But now I am back home and trying to not check Facebook several times a day and read garbage. The Catholic sites are edifying, thank goodness, but all in moderation! It is sad we are losing real touch with each other as human beings.

  • Margaret McIntyre

    Another of Postman’s brilliant books, ‘The disappearance of Childhood” links technology (internet, movies, television) to the acceleration of the loss of “childhood innocence” and the coarsening of society. An excellent read for parents, educators and religious leaders..

  • Margaret McIntyre

    In 1993, Neil Postman (RIP ) wrote the predictive book, TECHNOPOLY and he was right on. I served on our local school board a few years later to help shape technology policies, but it was like trying to redirect energy with a windmill during a tornado! “our kids are entitled to the best! “ was the refrain… and the teacher’s union, naïve themselves about technology, took the bait too—big time—mostly to increase teacher’s self-esteem. While not everyone bought in, politicians used ‘technology in schools money” as another entitlement payoff—-and now we are stuck with a warped education system from K-14 with warped budgets to match.

    In “TECHNOPOLY” this witty, often terrifying work of cultural criticism, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death chronicles our transformation into a Technopoly: a society that no longer merely uses technology as a support system but instead is shaped by it–with radical consequences for the meanings of politics, art, education, intelligence, and truth.

  • Greg Aitchison

    Right on. Just this last year I started faithfully using an automatic e-mail response each night saying I wouldn’t be checking e-mail until the next day so that I could do a better job balancing work life and family life. Not only has this been a HUGE help for me as a husband and father but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how approving and encouraging others have been in regards to it – even people who were trying to get a hold of me during evening hours!

    As well, I’ve almost sensed a bit of jealousy in their words. As if they wish they had the strength and guts themselves to put their dumb phones and computers away for the night or weekend but for whatever reason can’t (or don’t) do it. I think being a faithful Catholic is becoming even more and more countercultural in this regard (as well as many others, of course).

  • Ron

    I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the post.



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