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The Dangers of New Media (The Final Critique)

July 2nd, 2010 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I have already mentioned the potential stultifying effect of consuming lots of information and the danger of reinforcing our inauthentic self-presentation.  To those dangers, then, I would add a third:  new media has the power to divorce us from the reality for which we have been created, effectively putting us to sleep.

As a novice blogger, I advocated adopting the medium on the grounds that it made me more attentive to things happening around me.  “I am always looking for my next blog post,” I claimed.  Such an approach, however, crippled my ability to understand reality and experience it as reality. Just as the easy photography of digital cameras has caused people to interrupt their interactions to pose for a picture, so blogging disrupted my enjoyment of the world by making me conscious of it in a very different way than I would have been otherwise.  I would tentatively suggest that the change made me more conscious of myself in that my own thought processes and preparation to write took precedence over the simple and direct experience of the reality itself.

Second, if we routinely place a form between ourselves and the manifold and diverse reality around us, we potentially stultify ourselves by preemptively managing our experience of the world.  Reality is more than a potential blog post, and to experience it only as such undercuts our grappling with and apprehension of those aspects of reality that do not necessarily fit the medium.  Only when such aspects thrust themselves before us are we confronted by the limitations of the medium, as happened with the Virginia Tech massacre.  A blog post is an ill-suited commemoration for such a terrible tragedy.  The hurried, transitory nature of blogging—think of how little people read the archives—is incommensurate with the profound and permanent pain.

Third, seeing the world as a potential blog post threatens to reduce reality to a tool for our own production rather than being an end in itself. While this critique may be true of all artistic production, what makes new media different is the short turnaround time from event to experience (using Sayersian language) and the public nature of the media.  The production of our interpretations of reality becomes a more important end than our own understanding of reality itself.  The diminished lag time between writing and publication—from weeks or months to seconds—has changed the dictum examined above to “publish frequently or perish,” increasing the danger of viewing reality as a means to our own end.*

The typical argument that new media is fundamentally narcissistic, then, does not go deep enough.  The danger of new media is not only that it provides new means for our bloated desires for self-promotion. Rather, media—new and old—entice us to subordinate reality for our own ends and means, to bring reality into ourselves and shape it in our own image.  If we give in, we will find ourselves unceasingly busy and stimulated, yet unrelentingly bored.  Reality is a mystery rich enough, good enough and powerful enough to hold our fascination, but only as long as it remains outside of us as a good to be sought for its own sake.

To see the previous installment in this series, click here.

*There is an underlying unity, then, with the danger of “overstimulation,” which we often (though not always) employ to avoid undesirable aspects of reality.  This also makes the external world a tool for our own ends (constant pleasure), rather than an end in itself.

Taken from The New Media Frontier edited by John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton, ©2008.  Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187,  Download for personal use only.