On the Loss of a Private Life, or an Inner Voice
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Written by ‘Zoomer’ Enoch
With the exponential rise of smartphones, hand-in-hand with the complete monopolized domination of the internet, from a decentralized network to a nonlinear system (in the form of Big Tech), there’s probably a lot of collective head-scratching going on over what, if anything, we should do about the brave new digital world that we find ourselves in. As has been shown before, the adoption of technology is also rising exponentially, with almost direct-to-consumers’-brains markets at this point. What has been bubbling under the surface, though, is something that seems to have risen as an epiphenomenal byproduct of all of these rapid changes in the culture...
Here I speak of the loss of a private life, if you didn’t skip past the headline. With consistent upticks in screen time across all demographics, it’s not enough to just be on the consumer side of the cultural-consumerism equation nowadays. Rather, many of these services are taken for granted as completely free to the user while beckoning them to speak their minds on all of the latest ‘world-ending’ disasters that we’re supposed to care about.
But it is almost a trope at this point to say that these services aren’t actually free—at least in newer analyses. In fact, multi-million-and-billion dollar corporations are spending more than they are worth, year over year, just on the problem of keeping you in front of their services for longer… The issue coming to the fore now is what the ‘doom box’ is doing to our souls (for an average of 7 hours a day)…
Up until recently, the masses didn’t have many ways of communicating the gnarliest parts of themselves to the rest of the world. At most—until the printing press, at least—you could probably make your township gawk over something you exclaimed in the public square. After that, maybe your country… But there were so many checks and balances to get to this place that most of the gunk was filtered along the way... But the floodgates have now been opened! Do you rise to the call to exclaim?
Also, until the Reformation, truth for most of the West was pronounced from the pulpit on Sunday. As a protestant, I used to be told these facts as a teen, and I would shudder at the idea of not being able to read the Bible for myself (… the horror!)… But now that I’ve seen some things, I’m beginning to think that there might actually be something to it...
When a community has the same story they tell one another, a natural harmony arises. Another trope memed into oblivion; the Catholics have a point when they note the thousands of protestant denominations circling the waters around me. When everyone is the pope, fractures happen quickly. We’re corrupt people, and will individually grasp at whatever scraps of power are presented to us under our noses.
This protestant tendency has been kicked into hyper-drive in our current, secularized society. Not even God can tell us what is good or bad anymore, so there arises a mad dash for power from every corner of the world, as long as you can manage to find an IP address to stake your claim.
This isn’t just a natural flaw that is being shown to the world. Now, billions in vulture capital are siphoned into finding the most outlandish, brutal, or insulting ideas in the world (Tik Tok, anybody?). We all know this is what creates clicks and attaches eyes to screens in the early hours of the morning. I mean, we’ve all ‘doom-scrolled’ at one point or another, haven’t we? (… Google would know the details)
But is this how we create wealth? Not just material, but spiritual, emotional, communal wealth? I shouldn’t have to convince you that our capitalist overlords don’t have the Christian’s best interests in mind when creating algorithms for Facebook. I’m also not suggesting you even delete your social media presence or buy a dumb phone (… yet). But we do need to both acknowledge the risks at play when we sell our attention (and ourselves) to these companies, and that it is doing bare violence to the average person's soul. You don’t even need to take a spiritual angle for this to be blatantly true.
Remember the documentary, The Social Dilemma? As a twenty-something, I can recall countless social media effort-posts about people “taking a break” from their phones, or calling out the predatory practices of FAANG. But then what happened? Exactly the same cycle that the algorithms always predicted would happen. Do you really think Netflix of all companies would sell a documentary like this if they knew it was going to hurt their bottom line?
As The Social Dilemma has made clear I hope, there isn’t much that we can do for the hordes and their iPhones. But we can do something for ourselves.
Looking back in the Christian tradition, noise isn’t new. Yes, it might seem like the gain knob has been cranked since the rise of the telegraph, but all of humanity will encounter exterior noise and the draw of the public square, in one form or another.
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” says Blaise Pascal. He’s probably correct. To master interior life is probably one of the most formidable tasks we are required to do.
Recently, I’ve made a habit of taking retreat to a local monastery for 3 or 4 days a year to pray, participate in worship, and read. In 2019, possibly by divine intervention, I was graced with an opportunity to witness the dichotomy of the noise of the world and my own inner voice in the starkest contrast. The same day I left, I drove back into town and went to a Christmas service at a local church with my family. I was greeted with guitar solos, smoke machines, and acrobatics… It was a bit disorienting, to say the least. But isn’t this what the contemplative tradition is for? We leave the world for the world, not to escape it.
I would recommend observing your own inner life during the day-to-day, and noticing where distractions form from. There’s no silver bullet for removing outer noise, it’s a lifelong process that no one has completed. Try meditative prayer, going on retreat, quarantining the phone at night, and going on errands without technology. Navigate your city without a map. Sun your balls. Just do something, or we will all drown in hashtags before our children become teenagers.
Similarly, maybe it’s time to start slowly taking back your private life as well. Do all your opinions about the ‘current thing’ really need to be broadcasted as soon as they bubble up in your head? Do they even need to be broadcasted at all? At the very least, can less sometimes be more?…
All right, if it’s late at night where you are, and especially if you’re winding down from a late-night doom-scroll, it’s time to put the phone down. The doom box will still be here when you wake up, and you can tell the world how you feel about things again tomorrow…