This morning, when I opened up my Facebook page I was greeted with the news that today marks the 25th anniversary of the internet –a quarter century ago people throughout the globe were first invited to participate in the exciting new venture known as the World Wide Web. This morning’s announcement elicited all sorts of memories for me about how I was first introduced to the internet and its potential for global “progress.”
When our now-adult boys were children, our family took a summer trip to Epcot Center in Disney World where I was first introduced to the newly emerging internet technology. The Disney exhibit heralded all the wonderful potential the “web” might offer to the world in the days ahead. The internet would help to connect with people everywhere, offering fresh new possibilities for dialogue and mutual understanding. Furthermore, we were shown how in the future we would be able to do all our shopping “on the web,” get our mail by pushing a button on a computer and at the click of a key access information about anything we wanted to know from anywhere in the world. There would be no need to spend all that time shopping at a store or going to a post office or doing research in a library, and this would “free us up” so that we could have way more time to relax and lots more time to spend with one another.
Twenty five years later, I realize that most of what was predicted about the future of the internet basically came true, except that it didn’t really help us to create a community of dialogue and mutual understanding, nor do it free us up for more leisure time devoted to friends and family.
I think about all the mean-spirited tweets and strident attacks on others posted by so many people nowadays in the easily accessible social media of our own day - hardly a vehicle for dialogue and understanding. I also think about how many people today have become so obsessed with their technologies that instead of taking the time to rest or to look up into a starlit sky, they spend most every waking hour sitting in front of a computer surfing the web, or pecking away at a smart phone even while having dinner with friends.
Buddhist author and teacher, Susan Murphy, offers this analysis about the spiritual tyranny of today’s internet technology and the effects it has had upon the soul of today’s culture:
We have allowed ourselves to become fractured and made small
by technology’s voracious intent to talk to us incessantly.
We talk to more and more people but fewer and fewer face to face
and we strain to do everything in less time.
We are constantly subjected to incoming messages,
a ceaseless bombardment from proliferating electronic platforms and
only a fraction of these interruptions are important enough to deserve the
unhesitating priority they are given.
Many undermine rather than add to knowledge
and truth is rarely a concern.
While driving my car yesterday I came upon some highway construction as a roadside sign flashed the message: Prepare to Stop! Today, as I think about the anniversary of the internet and this new era of social technology, it seems to me that maybe that flashing sign may offer us all some good advice as we travel along the electronic highway.
Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:
If you are like most of us, since you’ve been born you’ve been running tense,
the mind always pre-occupied by so many things.
So first of all you need to train yourself to stop - stop running after all these things.
Stop, be here, come back to the wonders of the present moment.
Today I plan to celebrate the anniversary of the internet by pulling the plug, muting the texts and disconnecting at least for a few hours. Maybe I’ll take a walk in the desert or contact some friends I haven seen for a while. It seems to me that a good way to celebrate today’s anniversary is to “stop.”