THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – PART ONE

BLOG #16, SERIES 4

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND

Part One

April 17, 2013

I pray a lot about my blogs – that God will help me choose each one – then I wait. Sometimes His answer is soft and under-stated; sometimes He permits me to choose from several options; and sometimes the answer is about as subtle as the smash of a sledgehammer – that’s the way it has been this week. The subject so significant it will take me three blogs to address it.

The catalyst? Two days ago, early one snowy morning, after walking through the almost heartbreakingly beautiful April snow – never a given in drought-plagued Colorado –, I thought once again about the fragility of our lives, and wondered how many more such April snowfalls the good Lord would grant me.

Back at the house, a fire was crackling merrily in our moss rock fireplace. When we were searching for a home in the Rockies a little over 16 years ago, a must was a wood-burning fireplace. When we found this place, one glimpse of this particular fireplace, and we knew we were home.

Back in the house with two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Denver Post, I settled down to catch up on news of the world. Usually, I stall out more often with WSJ, but not this morning, for there in Section C of the Post was the blog catalyst for the next several weeks. Here is how Matt Miller’s jolting headline read:

PLUGGED IN
FACEBOOK DOESN’T WANT TO BE A TOOL,
IT WANTS TO BE YOUR SOCIAL LIFE

It begins with, “Facebook is in the business of social lives. The friends you have, the execs you stalk, the restaurants you like, and the brands you talk about are at the core of what they do.”

Miller points out that Facebook executives have been increasingly convicted that they were losing the battle for control of our minds to other media brands and forms. So their brain trust came up with something they call “Facebook Home,” but is really far closer to “Facebook Phone,” for it inserts Facebook into the center of the Android phone world.

Initially, Miller perceived the program as a good and needed thing, but the more he’s studied it, the more apprehensive he has become:

When Facebook becomes the hub of our mobile social lives as the operating core of our phone, it is no longer just a tool we use to streamline our social lives – Facebook can now BE your social life.

Miller then quotes from University of Colorado Michelle Jackson (associate professor of communication):

You get hundreds of people that you’re supposedly following. And Facebook takes care of all the decisions . . . of what to read about who, and when.

Imagine the number of times the average person looks at his/her phone every day. Now, with Home, this person is automatically being thrust into the social world via Facebook with each glance.

Jackson notes that deciding moment-by-moment whether to socialize or not will no longer even be an option, for if your phone is turned on, you’re already there:

From the moment you turn it on, you see a steady stream of who’s in a bad mood, who’s happy, who’s posted pictures from a party or a meal. Instant access to political rants or anything else people broadcast on social media.

* * * * *

I do not regard Facebook’s Home program as insidious in itself, but rather symptomatic of an even broader issue: What’s happening to us as a society? There’s an old sociological term for it – other-directed. We have just two options in life: we are either other-directed or we are inner-directed. To be inner-directed is to have an inner core of beliefs that enables you, to a certain extent, to be master of your own destiny. By extension: whether you succeed or fail at what you do and accomplish on a day-to-day basis, is in your hands rather than in the hands of others. On the other hand, if you lack inner-directedness, and are consequently other-directed, you are no more in control of your multitudinous life-choices than would be true of the captain of an ocean cruiseship that has lost its rudder. In wartime vernacular, you are a “sitting duck” for forces beyond your control.

We ought to be terrified by this accelerating shift from being an inner-directed nation to being an other-directed one.

The result is that more and more of us are choosing to live in a vicarious world rather than in the real one; choosing pleasure as our lode-star rather than real-life tough choices,. I’m reminded of my personal immersion into utopian and dystopian literature preparatory to writing my master’s thesis at Sacramento State University. During that time period I studied the two most famous dystopias: Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World. Orwell’s nightmarish world of the future was patterned after tyrants such as Stalin who murdered some 40,000,000 of his people in order to remain in power. Huxley’s view of the future was much more benign: ruling by control of the mind rather than body. In retrospect, as I look back over the years separating me from 2013 and the 1968 thesis (45 years), I feel that if Huxley were alive today, he’d have written a sequel to his own sequel. Twenty years after writing Brave New World, he wrote Brave New World Revisited. In it he voiced his deep concern for the societal shift that had already taken place: in only twenty years, already Brave New World was becoming reality rather than fiction. Originally, he’d assumed it would take a century to get there!

In Brave New World (a flashback to Shakespeare’s The Tempest), Huxley created a world driven by the pleasure-principle. Just as was true in the last years of the Roman Empire, unscrupulous individuals are able to assume control of millions of people by providing ever more pleasure-related activities so that the masses would lose interest in the realities of government and citizenship.

So, to conclude this first segment of “The Paralysis of the American Mind,” and set the stage for Part 2, let’s recap by posing some questions worth pondering:

• Just how much control over my life am I willing to surrender to someone else (be it an individual or corporation)?

• How much intrusion into my own achievement/career/family, etc. trajectories am I willing to permit?

• What effect on my personal time-management will these near constant electronic intrusions have?

• Just what am I today: inner-directed or other-directed?

• Recognizing that Facebook’s Home is but one piece of a vast electronic mosaic, is it perhaps time for me to back off a bit and take stock of how I am personally relating to the realities of my own Brave New World?