Amanda Mull considers the virtues of telephones over texting. It’s not a binary choice, but the intimacy of phones does have an advantage
In place of the natural intimacy of verbal conversation, texters and technology companies have tried to retrofit emotional richness into messaging through abbreviation (lmao) and emoji. Those signifiers work to a certain extent, but there’s an irony to so many people mimicking the touchstones of spoken conversation on their phones when they’re just a button-press away from the real thing.
I say there is no financial compensation for users, but many users feel themselves amply compensated by the aforementioned provisions: ease of use, connection with others, and so on. But such users should realize that everything they find desirable and beneficial about those sites could disappear tomorrow and leave them with absolutely no recourse, no one to whom to protest, no claim that they could make to anyone. When George Orwell was a scholarship boy at an English prep school, his headmaster, when angry, would tell him, “You are living on my bounty.”6 If you’re on Facebook, you are living on Mark Zuckerberg’s bounty.
This is of course a choice you are free to make. The problem comes when, by living in conditions of such dependence, you forget that there’s any other way to live—and therefore cannot teach another way to those who come after you. Your present-day social-media ecology eclipses the future social-media ecology of others. What if they don’t want their social lives to be bought and sold? What if they don’t want to live on the bounty of the factory owners of Silicon Valley? It would be good if we bequeathed to them another option, the possibility of living outside the walls the factory owners have built
This is nothing like the attention Paul VanderKlay pays, but the man of the cultural moment certainly seems to be Jordan Peterson. As some one outside the moment (and basically wanting to remain that way), I found Patrick Mitchell’s review of Peterson useful. Not surprisingly, David Brooks connects some of the dots.
Parents, universities and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.
What strikes me as particularly relevant to the age is the insistence on fundamental truths about humanity, not just about our gender tendencies, but our seeking meaning as a necessary condition of our life — that’s a variant of Abraham Heschel’s approach, that we possess the moral duty to explain the wonder, the ineffable we encounter. Both Brooks and Mitchell highlight the realist, the tragic sense of life, this too, coming as an echo of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Ours is a conservative age, if not a reactionary one, and in that framework Peterson provides the essentialist and ethical voice necessary for its navigation, a voice with strong appeals to conservatives. The same voice, its fundamental humanism also offers the alternative to the tawdriness of expression and sloppy ideas that marks so much of the conservative ruling class.
Can’t we back up a step or two, and instead of asking “What currently cool technologies can we copy?” ask “What are our core convictions and core practices, and what existing technologies best support them?” And maybe even ask this more challenging question: “What if the existing technologies don’t serve our needs very well? How can we acquire the imagination, the technical chops, and the sheer courage to roll our own instead of choosing from a pre-existing menu of options?” It’s better — far better — to risk abject failure than to choose a safely imitative course that makes excellence impossible by design.
This is the perennial problem with culture. Does there exist a separate, distinctively Christian way? How do we speak differently without being co-opted?
Short answer: that’s not ours to plan. It’s an illusion that we have this cultural power, a hubris of our own place. What we do have is this place. The self-aware space where we stumble a little forward, try to do something good, and if all else fails, plant a garden.