You are not Worth Talking to: the Tyrannical Reign of the Screen
By Jeremy Hausotter
Apr. 30, 2022
You are not worth talking to. You sit there in your chair, drinking your Starbucks Americano with an earpod in, jamming to some tunes, doing your thing. You are doing you, scrolling through your phone as we all wait for our orders to be fulfilled, you wait for your sandwich and me for mine. Then we depart.
I am not worth being talked to. You sit on the subway or airplane, listening to music, watching television, and scrolling through mind-numbing social media. You are doing you. You do your thing, I do mine. In the end, we are mere passerbyers. Perhaps you have a glance around, but there is no other contact between us.
You have your screen. I have mine. You scroll endlessly on your phone while staring at the television screen. You have your laptop on your lap. You say you are working. Oh, and by the way, you must check now to see what is happening on your smart watch. You do you, I do me; each to his or her own choice of drugs.
Computers, televisions, cellular devices, watches, refrigerators, smokers, automobiles, and everything else are conquered slaves. Glasses, microwaves, stove tops, music players, it does not matter, for each must equally submit and be conquered. Cars, billboards, restaurant menus, and even toilets. Nothing is sacred. Not even the sanctuary of a church and its liturgical celebrations! All must yield the knee to the emperor in slavish devotion.
Machines and appliances are enslaved technology. The screen demands obsequium. If man can make it, he can brand it, and branded it becomes with the screen. Screens are a brand indicating technological ownership. You believe you are purchasing ownership over that so-called smart thingy-majigger, technological device, but in reality you are only renting yourself out as a slave unwittingly. You are purchasing your own slave-master who is another’s lackey.
The domination of the screen over technology rides the trajectory of the domination of the screen through that device over man. Man is a dominated being, dominated by an addiction fueled by algorithms. Screens, the socially acceptable cocaine, discreetly steal our freedom little by little. We sample a hit and become hooked. Ipods, iphones, computers, smart TVs, smart watches, smart whatevers. If it is “smart”, then this is code for the hostile takeover and domination by screens.
One can point to the data concerning our addiction to screens across the various devices, but our intention here is not sociological or psychological per se, but existential. We wish to diagnose the ills ravaging the soul. We are addicts, and we accept that fact, we have embraced it, even adore it, and unconsciously evangelize on its behalf. If you wish to taste their sweet nectar, then you must purchase a screen. One must become an initiate and expose themself before the screen. Stand there fellow man, in naked humility before your lord. Show your devotion and post it on social media.
Unconsciously, we slowly conform our lives around the screen. The screen becomes the be all and end all of our lives. We work for the screen, play with it, excrete with it, snuggle in bed with it, travel for it, fight for it, and die for it. We worship it. We worship screens because we are addicted to them. Our addiction fuels our slavish passion for our idol. Once we have it, its use is designed to addict us further. Screens themselves are addictive. The neurologist can explain how screens trigger chemical releases to addict us like any illicit substance. We transform our lives to accommodate our screen use like the heroin addict staggering through the streets contemplating how to obtain the next hit. Do we not stagger down the sidewalk while taking that dose of screen?
A second layer of addiction is completed through further algorithms. Apps, games, and social media are designed to addict us, for as the tobacco companies learned, the addicted customer is the best one for profit, and the earlier and younger you get hooked, the more they can maximize their profits. To accomplish this is twofold. First, the victim-consumer is targeted by advertising campaigns. Screen-culture is advertised as the new, fun, sexy trend for adolescents. We are an aggressively advertised to society, and once we nibble on the lure we are reeled in by the app’s algorithms that are further designed to addict us. You, O consumer, are the prey, your flesh the carrion for the vulturic algorithm.
A third layer is human interaction through devices and apps. Man is a social being, made to be in communion and screens prey upon the communitarian dynamism of the human person. We play games with friends, hangout with them, and even hang out in online houses, bars, and clubs now. Social interaction becomes equivalent to screen interaction. How else does one say he has been dating someone for a year he has never met, except through a screen?
Screens threaten every level of human social interaction. Screens become our friends, for we spend vast amounts of quality time with them. Screens become our parents for they raise us and teach us a way of living. Screens become our babysitters, so that busy parents can be busy staring at screens. Nothing makes one busier than the stare into the eternal void of limitless digital space. Screens become our teachers for any subject, for good or bad. They are our money managers, life managers, and the moderator for political debate. Screens are our lovers, for how often men and women masturbate to the screen in their vain attempts to satisfy that human need for sexual intimacy. How bizarre it is for one to perform sexual activities with a screen, but man indeed has fallen so far low that some not only do such, but applaud others who join their despair.
Screens and technology, apps and social media are no doubt both a blessing and a curse, to which I am both grateful for and curse over. Computers, televisions, smart watches and social media have done much to advance the cause for humanity and to inhibit his authentic progress. Our focus is this negative aspect. Technology is a tool and as a tool one can use it for good or evil. I am certainly both a great admirer and a great critic of it.
Screens have transformed our lives. One sits on a plane and in the dark miles above every seat is neatly lit up in rows with one’s choice of drugs, whether it is laptop, phone, tablet, or whatever. The eye of the screen catches all and as the siren’s call it draws us all in. Do not resist. Join us. Join our collective and experience new found pleasures and fancies.
Few talk on planes, screens replaced and fixed that. Few talk when eating out or at a party, for screens have fixed that as well. It is a depressing sight to see good friends hanging out together, each perfectly ignoring the other while gazing into the loving eyes of their beloved screen or interacting in accordance to the protocols outlined by screen, whether it is games, pictures, videos or music. Again, these can be either good or bad, but are frequently abused for we are unconscious of the necessary limits required by authentic social interaction.
Consciously or unconsciously, one’s being dominated and enslaved by the screen makes one complicit with this state of affairs. In either case one surrenders his or her freedom. The lack of struggle against such is a complicity by omission if not active promotion. One is in a despairing state and does nothing to escape. He does not recognize such. He is content with his despair, which too becomes another source for despair.
Screens have slowly transformed our social life into something increasingly unrecognizable. We are a train in a tunnel, unable to see the approaching cliff and abyss below for the screen lights blind our eyes. We, as a society, are forgetting what it means to have authentic interpersonal relationships, for we are increasingly satisfied with cheap counterfeits and substitutions. Our social attention is increasingly shifted from the thematicity of the person you should be interacting with towards self entertainment. In other words, there is an impetus within screens that draw us away from other persons and into ourselves. Our own self pleasure and entertainment become the thematicity of social engagements, and the more the impetus remains unchecked, the more society forgets how to perform authentic sociality and to live socially. It is quickly becoming a lost art, saved for the few curmudgeons.
To combat this, we as a society need to be more conscientious about the effects of screens, apps, and social media, and take a stand by practicing true sociality. Leave the phone within your pocket when you are at a party or outing. Put away the smart devices. Limit screen time on television and computers. Limit social media. These all have good and beneficial uses, but it is a tool that left to its own devices siphons away your time unwittingly. We need to recognize Charybdis for who she is, and navigate accordingly. In essence, a habit of temperance needs to be practiced and exercised concerning the screen so that man remains master of his technology and not the reverse.
Another action we can deploy is hold governments and social media sites accountable. We need to put in place resources for helping our addicted generation. Predatory algorithms need to be dismantled and outlawed. There needs to be accountability erected to protect the freedom of all people.
Within the new rising slave class, we see the exploitation by the manufacturers of these devices and services of the people. If there is a screen, an advertisement can be placed on it. The human person is further dehumanized as a commodity for profit margins. Screens are black surface areas to be monopolized, and the drive to squeeze every ounce of blood-money out of the consumer fuels the invasive lust of advertisements.
We pay to escape them. We pay to access content with them, then pay more to escape. We spend a thousand dollars on a new fancy smart television in order for it to show ads when you pause your show. Browsing for a channel in the TV guides have ads interspersed as their own channel rows. Banners on news reports say sponsored by X or Y. Games possess ads. Ads are placed between posts in social media. Ads show up while a videogame loads. Microsoft is looking now to put ads in their windows explorer software. They have already introduced ads within the taskbar and send remind ads to subscribe to their products that you already own.
Every opportunity for ad revenue is being sought to invade your life for profit margin. Your privacy is surrendered to the screen so that corporations can more effectively target you with their ads. In the end, you are a bloodied heap of bruised flesh twisted, pulled and punched until every nickel and penny can possibly be extracted. You are nothing more than a slave to a screen which you pay to possess and feed; you were advertised a dog for a pet and instead were sold a tapeworm which you dutifully swallowed according to the directions on the packaging; delighted by your new pet dog, but not recognizing that it will feed on you for all you have until you die. Only, this tapeworm is much more nefarious, for it feeds off of your personhood, personality, and personal existence for its own gullet. The worm now lives inside of you, eating away at your existence, excreting despair into your soul. It feeds off of your character and habits so that it can learn how to eat more of your money and existence.
The domination of the screen is the new enslavement of humanity by corporate greed. You are not worth talking to. I am not worth talking to. Our worth is measured in advertisement revenue. That is how companies measure us.
You are not worth talking to. I am not worth talking to. I am doing my own thing. You are doing yours. My concern is me and your concern is you. You are of no interest. I am of no interest. That is how we measure ourselves and others: individualism, narcissism, me and me first. Soon me and me alone.
The very first revelation from God is that man is a human person endowed with a dignity greater than the rest of creation. This is one of the lessons from the creation accounts in the book of Genesis. Man is made in the image and likeness of God. Man is a created human person who is Imago Dei. You are worth talking to. I am worth talking to.
The nature of the human person is such that he is a truth seeker, we all have this in common. All of humanity possesses the same inherent, ontological value as a special gift wisely created by God. How are we supposed to engage in this mystery if we ignore and avoid each other? How is one supposed to seek truth which is a communal act itself? Truth, gift, and mystery are encountered in dialogue, and reveal that we are truly worth talking to.
Screens are isolating devices. They promote a relationship between a user and the device. There is an anti-communitarian principle inherent to the design of the machine. We can no doubt game together online or watch a movie together, but in each communitarian situation the experience is ultimately that between the individual user and the device used. In this respect, the persistent danger remains that when we use screens we drift towards social isolation. We hence must be conscientious of this fact. The more we are not personally active with our center of being towards resisting this principle, then we too will follow the drift of the current towards isolation. We must have awareness and concern over this threat to our personhood, and strive to actively work against this tendency of the screen.
Screen use is an isolating action, for it is a relation between myself and technology. This relation is in essence between an I and an It, and I and It relation. Only, the flow of Itness traverses both directions. My I is no more than an It, to be used by the screen for its purposes as I use the screen for mine.
Screens threaten our personhood because man is a social being. When we allow them, screens impinge upon our social nature through this isolating principle. We must, as persons, stand up and recognize that in order to be a fulfilled human person there has to be on our part a striving to fulfill this social dynamism of the human spirit. When we do not fulfill our sociality as part of our nature, we are underdeveloped persons and unhappy. We begin to live partially as a person, and this becomes a source for despair. The more we allow screens to invade our private lives and our social structures, the less we will be able to achieve authentic sociality that fulfills our lives and nature. We cannot live a flourishing life if we live against our human nature.
This isolating principle of screens is in its native mode an anti-evangelistic principle. It should come as no surprise that the Gospel is something that is meant to be proclaimed. Proclamation entails the entering into dialogue, of talking to one another and bearing witness to the truths of the Christian faith in one’s life. How do we expect one to give such witness or begin such conversation if we fail to talk to one another? We certainly do engage in conversations online, and the internet is this era’s New America for the Church to send out its missionaries. There is no doubt that one can use social media platforms and various technological devices to aid in the proclamation of the Gospel.
The key point is that these are interactions online. You still need to talk to your neighbor who lives next door or the coffee barista, or whomever you encounter in your daily life. The reality of the Gospel is that its proclamation needs to also occur between you and me, immediately present before one another, not separated by the vastness of digital space. The digital land of the internet is oftentimes the greatest barrier against proclamation with its immediate access to everything.
We interact with screens, and when we do so, we tend to forget our surroundings and ignore them. You ignore me and I ignore you, but hey, let's chat on discord tonight. The connectivity the internet brings is also its isolation. The two are inseparable, concomitant. We become more integrated online at the cost of our offline participation in reality, in our offline conversations and interactions with people. And with this, our ability to be social and give witness to the Gospel itself becomes harder.
How can we relate to one another if we do not practice such in real life? How do we pick up on those nonverbal clues of communication if our mode of communication is more and more emojis and naked text, interspersed with memes and gifs? We are threatened with losing contact with one another as living, breathing persons, and treating each other more and more as robots. One of the greatest gifts of the internet is that it can be as anonymous as one desires. Anonymity has its price however. The cost is that you deprive you and your interactions of your whole person.
When we are face to face, sitting down, drinking tea, coffee, or having a beer, you have to commit yourself to the conversation or you will feel embarrassed and become a social failure. It requires an investment of your whole personal center of being. The living contact with another person face to face is the greatest opportunity for conversion, for then, in that situation, through your person, you can image Christ to the other person, and when he or she sees you, they can see a reflection, an image, of Jesus Christ. When one is online, he or she can lurk, there is no danger involved. No personal effort required, just scroll, stare and lurk like a goldfish, and forget everything three seconds later. There is nothing dangerous about living in a fishbowl unless your technological overlords fail to feed you. Face to face has risks, the possibility of endangerment; you are exposed, naked, unshielded by digital distances. The internet easily becomes a safe space and echo chamber.
The encounter of two living persons face to face allows the ground for the I and It relation to cease and the encounter between me and you to fructify, the living contact between an I and a You. Online discussions can be of intimate nature, but words acquire greater power and force in person, in that situation where person stands before person. In the relation of I and You, words are spoken with greater force for they flow from the very depths of one’s personal center of being and are spoken with the whole person. The words of love, marriage proposals, grief and joy acquire greater thematicity and expression in the person to person encounter.
One can come to believe in the Gospel through the internet and talking to strangers halfway across the globe, there is no doubt or denial of this significant fact. The Gospel, however, is meant to be lived, and to live it, one must proclaim it. This means talking to people offline, at Starbucks, on the bus or subway. It can be something as simple as a “good morning” or “are you feeling alright?”. The power behind being addressed with a greeting and demonstrating that you are ready to stop everything, and listen to another human being, goes far beyond anyone’s expectations and can be transformative. At the very least, something as simple as the “good morning” implicitly informs the other person that yes, you are worthy of being talked to, you have dignity and value, I find you important and I am willing to stop doing my thing and see what is going on in your world. That is the Christian attitude without even talking about Jesus! That is treating the other as a You and not an It.
The Christian challenge for the world is to live more humanly, i.e., fulfill your destiny to be and live as a person. Encounter others and the world through a relation of I and You, expose your soul to personal existing and dare to live such. Christ is the perfect human person who is the archetype and model for humanity. Through Christ man finds and fulfills his personhood. In Christ we reach out to others and show them that Christ is the Way, Truth and Life in order to be a person. This begins on the street, in the subway, on the airplane, with a simple “hello, how is life going in your world?”
You are worth talking to. I am worth talking to. Man is infinitely interesting to talk to. You are only forgetting this simple fact because the screen is a log in your eye as it is in mine.
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir