Gilbert T. Sewall, co-author of After Hiroshima, explains to readers at The American Conservative what he calls an “electronic retreat from reality and nature,” that is “a pressing, accelerating challenge to social cohesion and general mental health.” Sewall writes (abridged):
More than 50 years ago, media critic Marshall McLuhan predicted a revolutionary shift from printed to electronic communications. We are living amid that arrival. An estimated 80 percent of Americans use smartphones regularly, and 11 seems to be the typical age of entry.
Americans crossed the electronic Rubicon some time in the 1990s. Then came Wikipedia and Google, followed by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The Apple iPhone arrived in 2007. Today, electronics mediate global activities, changing our daily lives even more radically than steel, electric lighting, and automobiles did a century ago, fundamentally altering the way we relate to nature and our neighbors.
“Human contact is now a luxury good,” The New York Times declares. Elites “have grown afraid of screens,” and school their children tech-free. “The richer you are, the more you spend to be offscreen” to make experience human. The little people remain tethered to machines for information and cut-rate services.
Confident future-is-here techies who stand to profit from mind control and changed consumption channels dismiss critics as dinosaurs and reactionaries, while continuing to accumulate extraordinary power. Resisters are identified as phobics and codgers who simply can’t keep up, poor things.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the video shooting game Fortnite collects data, constantly modifying itself to entice and captivate players. The game currently has enough market power to make or break sales at Best Buy, the big electronics retailer.
Once upon a time, people had to use muscle and reasoning skills to survive and make things work. Nature and the tangible world was what you had.
But like it or not, the internet follows children wherever they go on their smartphones, providing portals to everything from Khan Academy to hardcore pornography. Instead of connecting to surrounding habitats and institutions, children stare into screens, often alone, gaming and typing in darkened rooms. Thus mesmerized, many 12-year-olds find it impossible—I mean impossible—to concentrate, write, or even read. Some are diagnosed with learning disabilities such as attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity.
Instead of providing a counterforce, schools add to the problem. Up-to-date curricula turn to elaborate, expensive software packages and activity learning modules.
Is there a way out of this nasty state of affairs? Probably not.
The dancing chipmunks are irresistible, winning hearts and minds. They ask Americans of all ages to sing along, and as time goes on, more and more of us do—Mom and Pop and the Kids along with Grandma and her new boyfriend from SilverSingles.com. The electronic retreat from reality and nature did not begin yesterday, but more than ever it’s a pressing, accelerating challenge to social cohesion and general mental health.
Read more here.