Living in a digital age

I thought this was a clever video about how in this digital age we find ourselves in; many of us define ourselves through web-based identities. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my students often try to add me on facebook and complain when they can’t find me. What is interesting is that when I tell them we are friends in real life they often look at me and shrug. One student actually replied saying, “what does that even mean?” It is fascinating how quickly one can begin to take pride in what they’ve accomplished in a digital space (I use the word accomplish loosely). I have to admit that I have been paying close attention to the number of viewers my blog has been getting and I often wonder who is viewing this and how they are perceiving me (I’m sure they find me quite witty as this blog is lighting the internet on fire).

Our youth today are increasingly defining themselves through their use of technology and I feel that as teachers it is our responsibility to do our best to keep up with the growing trends. However I also think this video is important because it serves another purpose to say that just because something does not exist in a digital medium does not mean that it just does not exist at all. There is something to be said for going out with friends and turning your cell phone off. Nothing is quite as annoying as when your trying to have a conversation with someone and they are talking to someone else who hasn’t even had the decency to show up in person.

Something that interests me as a philosopher is examining how the use of technology has freed us as well as enslaved us. I read an article years ago by a man named Alan Lightman who laments “Not long ago, I was sitting at my desk at home and suddenly had the horrifying realization that I no longer waste time.” He reflects on how with advances in technology one can never really be said to be alone and this is not always a good thing. How often does one sit beside a lake or river in peaceful contemplation without hearing the buzz of a text message or an email?

We are most likely one of the last generations to experience childhood without being in the clutches of technology. Youth today often have no lived experience without being in the control of some kind of technology (many unborn babies now have their own facebook accounts waiting for them). This kind of thinking worries me because when I think back to my own childhood those moments by the lake at my grandparents house are some of the most powerful memories I have, times when I was struck with the experience of what it is to feel life, to be in tune with nature, and I worry for all those youth who will have these moments stolen from them by the ping of a text or the vibration of an email.

There is a power in time wasted. I share here my favorite quote that I think speaks to this:

Everything is in constant flux on this earth. Nothing keeps the same unchanging shape, and our affections, being attached to things outside us, necessarily change and pass away as they do. Always ahead of us or lagging behind, they recall a past which is gone or anticipate a future which may never come into being; there is nothing solid there for the heart to attach itself to. Thus our earthly joys are almost without exception the creatures of a moment; I doubt whether any of us knows the meaning of lasting happiness. Even in our keenest pleasures there is scarcely a single moment of which the heart could truthfully say: ‘Would that this moment could last for ever!’ And how can we give the name of happiness to a fleeting state which leaves our hearts still empty and anxious, either regretting something that is past or desiring something that is yet to come. But if there is a state where the soul can find a resting place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul. Such is the state which I often experience on the Island of Saint-Pierre in my solitary reveries, whether I lay in a boat and drifted where the water carried me, or sat by the shores of the stormy lake, or elsewhere, on the banks of a lovely river or a stream murmuring over the stones. What is the source of our happiness in such a state? Nothing external to us, nothing apart from ourselves and our own existence; as long as this state lasts we are self-sufficient like God. The feeling of existence unmixed with any other emotion is in itself a precious feeling of peace and contentment which would been ought to make this mode of being loved and cherished by anyone who could guard against all the earthly and sensual influences that are constantly distracting us from it in this life and troubling the joy it could give us. But most men being continually stirred by passion know little of this condition, and having only enjoyed it fleetingly and incompletely they retain no more than a dim and confused notion of it and are unaware of its true charm.

J.J.Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, Fifth Walk(P. France, Trans.) London:Penguin, 1979. Pp.88-89.

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