Taking a break from the endless online chatter always feels good, so why is it so hard to do?
Today, many of us are besieged by the desire to have a good time and be aware of everything that’s going on at the same time. We want to be everywhere at once—if not physically, at least virtually.
We live in the shadow of large corporations that vie for our attention to sell us advertising and collect data about our lives, which will then become Big Data to predict and manipulate our present and future behaviors. It all gets processed by algorithms that determine what we will be shown on social media and what products we will be offered. Artificial intelligence is being used with the goal of keeping us busy, sometimes without rest, because the more time we are online, the more money they can make off us.
I imagine that there must exist artificial intelligence created with good intentions and aimed at solving problems. The algorithms of social networks and search engines, however, are feeding off us constantly, and not in a disinterested way; they make money off us through ads, sponsored content, and promoted products. According to Shoshana Zuboff, a professor emerita at Harvard Business School, we are immersed in “surveillance capitalism” that is constantly seeking economic gain from our hyper-connected lives.
Let’s look at the immediate consequences for our lives. What is the result, if we add up social media, television and streaming content (especially series), and—in many homes—the abundance of video game platforms, gambling platforms, etc.? The effect on our daily routines is constant occupation. We’re endlessly looking at ourselves in the mirror of Instagram and Facebook, comparing ourselves to others and at the same time looking to get our moment of fame, perhaps through an aggressive tweet.
We’re riled up and polarized. Social networks and fake news can be an incentive for hate and intransigence, creating a feedback loop with the rhetoric of some politicians. Even some of the more serious media, both on paper and online, plays into this negativity.
We need to be aware of who is trying to get us involved in the growing trend of hate. As Christians, we should be distinguished by charity, not by rancor and hatred. How can we escape this noisy world of media that wants to drag us along and use us, without regard for our humanity or spiritual values?
Our personal response
The answer can only be to stop and get off this wild ride, which is so tense and yet so entertaining, and even so hysterical (in every sense of the word) on many occasions. We need to look for quiet, calm time, so we can find some peace. Peace requires taking time to dive into our own interior life, which can often be closed off to us by so much incessant screen time.
We know that many teenagers suffer as a result of so much time spent on on their smartphones. They can be overwhelmed by their relationships with their peers, which can become unhealthy, as people often do and say things online they’d probably never do or say in person. Some teens even start to suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression as a result of conflict or teasing (cyberbullying doesn’t respect the walls of the home!). Others can’t concentrate on studying, and their education suffers. Sometimes we need to hit the brakes and disconnect from the virtual world, so we can open the windows and connect with the real world around us.
When we open the windows of reality, we let in the oxygen that allows us to rest. We need to breathe deeply, read slowly, and listen to music in peace. We need to spend time with friends (good and varied friends) in the real world. Above all, we must rediscover ourselves and become aware of who we are and where we are going.
Parents should take time to assess their relationship as spouses and the way they are raising their children. Children should look more to the future, and be sure to find their best friends in real life—friends who bring them closer to the best version of themselves. Adolescents and young people need times of peace and quiet to study in depth, to read, and to discern their options for the future, regarding both their studies and their future careers.
Opening up to transcendence
Parents and children can reduce time spent on their screens, and slow down their consumption of motion and colors on their smartphones or tablets, so they can hear and see the Lord. They should make time for God. I’m talking about praying.
This means exercising the necessary austerity to meditate on the most important topics in life. In order to pray, we have to get inside ourselves and let the Lord speak. The Lord is inaudible and invisible to eyes and ears overwhelmed by the fast pace of the digital world.
We must enter the realm of silence, retreat into our hearts, and turn on the light of interior reflection. Many things can happen in our interior lives if we take off our “virtual reality visors” and “digital earmuffs.” If we live in peace—in peace with ourselves because we have given ourselves a different and new kind of time—we will find solutions to very serious problems that algorithms cannot solve. The Spirit blows like a gentle breeze, and we can only hear it in silence.