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Screaming in the Library – Lost in Cyberspace

October 19, 2010

I recently finished reading Dr. Douglas Groothuis’ book, The Soul in Cyberspace. This title, published in 1997 by Baker Books, takes a critical look at how society is impacted by cyber technology.

“Oh, but the book is over a decade old!” So the cyber-warrior of 2010 would shout.

True, the technology has morphed and changed, becoming faster, more integrated, more mobile, more invasive. But somethings don’t change, and that’s why this book is so important. As Dr. Groothuis writes, “All technologies, and particularly information technologies, extensively alter our forms of life – usually in invisible or at least subtle ways.”

And on page 75,

“Technologies, despite their diverse applications, are not neutral tools. They affect our lives in countless and often invisible ways. To become aware of our plight and find hope for our troubled souls, we must consider seriously the meaning of the machine. In the decentered self of assumed, online identities, the artificial is offered as the only option for the postmodern soul. There is no ‘real me,’ no trustworthy pattern for moral and spiritual improvement. All is negotiable, exchangeable, and multiple.”

We risk becoming the self-absorbed society. In many ways we already are, but now self-absorption doesn’t mean just social isolation – like ignoring everyone while in a room full of peers – but internally manifested isolation that shuts us off from the surronding environment.

A couple of weeks ago I walked the halls of a major university library. Very few were in the stacks, but the commons room was filled with youthful silence – students, wall to wall, were engrossed in the glow of their laptops, noiselessly texting, or plugged into some media device. A lot were doing all three. There must have been 150 in the room, each wrapped in a silent, self-contained, electronic cocoon. Books were far and few, and in a twisted librarian dream, no one was talking. I wanted to scream just to see if anybody was conscious beyond their plug-ins.

At the end of the day I was walking back to the university guest house – a twenty minute hike from the library – and found myself paralleling a young student. Our walking speed was nearly equal, and after a few minutes it was evident we were going in the same direction. I followed slightly to the left, and on occasion my shadow crossed the student’s. Yet, instead of looking to see who was paralleling – or looking to take in any of the immediate environment – the student’s eyes remained fixed on the handheld device while the ears were wired to a pod. The next day my kids watched a girl on a bicycle ride by – hands free from the bars, oblivious to the traffic – texting to her favorite tunes.

Now, I don’t disparage technology. Far from it; I’m blogging from a neat little Apple in a home that’s wireless. But I’m wondering: If all technologies alter our life forms, what social change can I expect to see from a world that’s so connected, yet so distant? What will happen to the “soul in cyberspace”?

Groothuis, a Christian and social researcher, provides a hint.

“When God, as the source and center of ultimate meaning, value, and significance, evaporates from the social scene, a bevy of idols rushes in to stake out the vacant territory. When the transcendence of God is rejected, the meaning of personhood is annulled; for persons are cut off from the only reference point that explains their origin, nature, purpose, and destiny. Without anchorage beyond itself, the self floats on the waves of instability and attempts to find peace by affirming its random multiplicities and uncertainties.”

Do yourself a favor. Unplug for a day and pick up Groothuis’ book, The Soul in Cyberspace. The technologies may have changed since 1997, but the soul remains.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 2:31 am

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with
    your blog.

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