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The Dangers of New Media (Desensitization, part 2)

June 24th, 2010 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

The numbing effect of information is one of the most significant challenges that users of new media face.  The inability to think deeply, to integrate what we are experiencing into ourselves, ultimately stifles creativity.

The twentieth century apologist, novelist and aesthetician Dorothy Sayers once described the task of the poet as expressing in words the events that happen to him.  According to Sayers:

A poet is a man who not only suffers the impact of external events but also experiences them.  He puts the experience into words in his own mind, and in so doing recognizes the experience for what it is.  To the extent that we do that, we are all poets.  A poet so-called is simply a man like ourselves with an exceptional power of revealing his experience by expressing it, so that not only he, but we ourselves, recognize that experience as our own…By thus recognizing [the event] in its expression, [the poet] makes it his own—integrates it into himself.  He no longer feels himself battered passively by the impact of external events; it is no longer something happening to him, but something happening in him.*

The distinction between the event and the experience is helpful for illustrating the effect of consuming too much media.  In the hours after the news of the Virginia Tech tragedy, I found myself scouring the web to find articles and news stories with interesting angles.  Each story that I read was, in Sayersian language, an event—it was new information from outside of me that hit my eyes.  As such, it needed to be considered carefully and eventually expressed in language of my own—if, that is, I wanted to experience the world and not simply be a passive recipient of the world. But the speed and ease of finding more “events”—more information, more externalized facts—overcame my need to digest, effectually numbing me to the effect of the information and the ability to wrestle deeply with it.

For the previous installment of this series, visit here.

*Dorothy Sayers. “Toward a Christian Aesthetic,” in Letters to a Diminished Church. (W Publishing Group:  Phoenix, 2004). 162-63.

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.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.