As is my usual Lenten practice, I will be paring down my use of online media to a minimum over the next few weeks. I won’t be commenting or posting links (either here or on my Twitter links account), won’t be following blogs or lurking on social media, won’t be using forums and email discussion lists, and will be reducing my correspondence.
Although some use of online media is worthwhile, I have become increasingly convinced that it poses significant dangers to our well-being, both as individuals and as a society. I have articulated my concerns in various places, several of which I have assembled in this recent post. Last week, I wrote about the danger that the Internet poses to a healthy culture of speech.
Over the last year, I have been decreasing my presence and use of certain social media, and being more selective in my choice and use of platforms. I have found the practice of occasional social media fasts to be a worthwhile mechanism by which to assess the place that these media have in my life. I would commend it to others: it is important that we have criteria and processes by which we can recognize the ways we are being shaped by our media.
Alongside our weekly assembly with God’s people and our daily prayers, the church calendar can be a means of orienting us in time, offering us rhythms through which we can more readily grasp our temporal situatedness and movement. The Internet is an alternative—and often rival—form of temporal (in)discipline, one that shapes us in different ways. Oliver O’Donovan articulates some of my concerns with it here:
The very name “media” conceals, and not innocently, the distinctive feature of this mediation – as opposed to the multitude of reflective mediations of art, history, philosophy, poetry and so on – which is its special concern with the immediate. It is immediacy that they mediate to us, keeping us in touch with what is unfolding – with the “new,” the just-having-come-to-be, the past horizon of the present, not the past in its narrative depth, as tradition.
Why are our first impressions of events so important to us, though even the ancient Greeks knew that second thoughts are wiser? It is because we feel our identities to be at stake. History and tradition, from which we derive identity, have to be brought up to the moment, made continuous with the present.
Every culture concerns itself with news-bringing in one form or another; most other cultures have been more relaxed about it. Perhaps simply because we have the power to communicate news quickly and widely, we are on edge about it, afraid that the world will change behind our backs if we are not au fait with a thousand dissociated facts that do not concern us directly. It is a measure of our metaphysical insecurity, which is the constant driver in the modern urge for mastery.
The new has no predetermined logic, so that focussing attention on it requires conceptual pre-patterning to register and control surprise and to integrate it into a narrative sequence. The unheard-of must somehow be heard of. And this is where late-modern media have established their line of supply. Devoting their full attention to the breaking wave, they echo its roar to us; we call upon them to show us the world new every morning, as though there never was a yesterday.
If “new every morning” is the tempo of divine grace and the tempo of our personal responsibilities, it is because the morning is a time when one can look back intelligently and look forward hopefully. It is the tempo of practical reason. The media’s “new every morning” (quickly becoming “new every moment”) is, one may dare to say, in flat contradiction to that daily offer of grace. It serves rather to fix our perception upon the momentary now, preventing retrospection, discouraging deliberation, holding us spellbound in a suppositious world of the present which, like hell itself, has lost its future and its past.
Lent is a period where we can ‘take time’. This taking of time isn’t solely a matter of putting hours or days aside for a particular purpose, but is a matter of reorienting ourselves in our relation with time itself, part of the discipline by which we may patiently recover the organic musicality of a life well ordered.
I have written more about the practice of Lent in this conversation with Jake Meador.
On a loosely related note, readers may also be pleased to hear that Lenten blog project of a few years ago—Forty Days of Exoduses—has recently been completed and turned into a book which I have written with Andrew Wilson. The finished manuscript was submitted a couple of weeks ago.