the overburden of modern communications
I’ve been enjoying a collection of C. S. Lewis’ personal letters on matters of discipleship, and as much as I try not to make the comparison, I can’t help but think that it’s a lot like reading Jack’s blog. They’re grouped by date rather than subject matter, so it jumps around from topic to topic, is interwoven with stories from his personal life, and has plenty of chitchat all through, just like a blog. As it’s checked out from a seminary library, I’ll resist the urge to leave comments at the bottom of my favorite posts. If Jack were alive today, the blog would definitely be his digital medium; he’s much too long in the tooth to have ever been on Twitter.
While we’re on the subject of media, digital and otherwise, here’s a quote from a letter to his brother that ought to serve as a warning to we bloggers and other participants in social media. If it was true when he wrote it, then it’s even more true today.
I took the line that the present rapidity of communication et cetera imposed a burden on sympathy for which sympathy was never made: that the natural thing was to be distressed about what was happening to the poor Jones’s in your own village and that the modern situation, in which journalism brings the Chinese, Russians, Finns, Poles, and Turks to your notice each morning really could not be met in the same way. Of course I know the more obvious reply, that you can’t do them any good by being miserable, but that is hardly the point, for in the case of the Jones’s next door we should think ill of the man who felt nothing whether his feeling did them good or not. I am afraid the truth is in this, as in nearly everything else I think about at present, that the world, as it is now becoming and has partly become, is simply too much for people of the old square-rigged type like you and me. I don’t understand its economics, or its politics, or any dam’ thing about it. From Yours, Jack | C. S. Lewis
He’s right, our sympathies simply cannot handle the constant flood of news, mostly bad, sometimes good, that is streamed to us each and every day. We can take it in rationally, logically, but not sympathetically. We oughtn’t even try to have an emotional response to every headline, no matter how tragic. At the same time, pining away for the days when we were unaware of life outside the village is no solution. Media and transportation have made us all global neighbours, and not all the results have been bad. Think of the massive outpouring of aid to the tsunami victims in India, the global response to the AIDS epidemic in Africa, even aid to Myanmar, a country that strives to be as insular as possible. We’re in a position to do more good than ever before, and at the same time, to not be able to respond to more than ever before. It’s good, and it’s frustrating, all at the same time.
The same is true of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc. These things can be means to begin and enhance significant relationships, but they can also overburden us with undue claims to our sympathies. Twitter serves as a great digital front porch, communicating the random thoughts and day-to-day details you’d pick up in passing. It’s a lot of fun, and has kept people I truly care about present to me, despite geographical distance. At the same time, it keeps some people present to me that I don’t really know or care about all that much, outside of their writings, speaking, or perhaps some mutual friends. The net is making it easier to keep up with people, which means it’s easier to be thoughtless. The danger for me is that I’ll consume people rather than sitting at the table with them. This, along with an enten vow, is why I’m purging my feeds right now. I want more depth and less breadth.