“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”
― Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means
“Hey where you at?” is a fairly common text message. It warrants a rather mindless response such as “be there in a sec” or some other such trivial type. We send it and do not give it two milliseconds of thought. It is so mundane that our brain barely has to come out of “low power mode” to answer this benignity. However, our modern world is saturated in something which is often seen as a good, but coupled with technology it becomes destructive.
It rules everything from the stock market to Mark Cuban’s text messages. As a culture, especially in America, we are driven by speed. It takes other forms, but speed is the commodity of the modern world. Imagine businesses corresponding by hand written letters. Our initial knee jerk reaction is that that would be absurd. Why do we have this reaction? Some of speed’s more positive aliases include “efficiency” or “professionalism.” However, some of its more nefarious modern translations include “instant gratification” or “just do it.” This idea of speed is corrupt when coupled with a specific inversion in a consumerist culture, one that is not so readily seen, namely, the bread and butter of rational activity – ends and means. This article will not try to break down piece by piece the horrible intrusion of “social media” into daily life. That is not my purpose. What I want to point out is this: that the increase in speed and efficiency in our means, leads to an ineffective understanding and even obfuscation of our ends.
Pope Pius XII had this to say at the beginning of 1950: “It is not an exaggeration to say that the future of modern society and the stability of its inner life depend in large part on the maintenance of an equilibrium between the strength of the techniques of communication and the capacity of the individuals own reaction.” Rather than taking a Thomistic approach to this subject, I think it is better if some connections are made beforehand. We are familiar with the history of this country and how certain commodities have become staples of the American economy, a fortiori pawns in the globalist economy. Things such as cotton, coal, and other natural resources have become “fixed charges” on the monthly budget of any given community. Now things like TV, internet, and other social media platforms (whether free or part of an inclusive service) are part of our daily bread. They have become necessities in the sense that they are the normal means of doing business. Speed, as we stated in the beginning is king, due mainly to the installment of the adage “time is money” ringing in our ears. Communication, coupled with ever-expanding technological advancements is forcing our culture into a deep dive into depression.
Now that we have laid the groundwork, we can pinpoint the problem, namely where speed enters the equation. I am not here to give an “expert opinion” but just to start a casual conversation on what I see to be an important topic in today’s day and age. Communication is spoiled by speed. The Latin, as is often the case, sheds more clarity. Communicatio means more than communication – it implies “sharing” or “imparting” and even “fellowship.” This is not something done over a text message, capable of only relaying a portion of humanity. Technology, while giving us the ability to do things more quickly and more “efficiently” also has the negative drawback of bastardizing communication at its core. If we couple the obvious addictive problems of social media with the ease of sending a text, our crippled human nature will almost always choose the “easier” path. It is how we are hardwired. In Roger Scruton’s “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture” he says that, “In a technological age we acquire an increasing grasp of the means to our goals, and a decreasing grasp of the reasons why we should pursue them.” I think this is a brilliant way of stating that we have abandoned purpose for meaningless consumption.
I just recently finished Homer’s Odyssey with my freshman Literature class, and I found that they didn’t quite grasp the importance of the work (which is understandable; they’re 14 and 15 years of age), however, I found myself reflecting on why this work had stood the test of time. Yes, there are certain important thematic points to be discussed and digested, but I think the relevance of a story nearly 3,000 years old is this: Odysseus has a clarity concerning is end, namely, reaching Ithaca and taking back what is rightfully his. Along the way we see smaller ends being met for their own sake, things like grieving, loving and honoring the deities as he sees them. Again, Scruton, “The mastery of the means that emancipated mankind from drudgery has brought with it a mystery of ends – and inability to answer, to one’s own satisfaction, the question of what to feel or do.” To summarize, means become their own end, yielding nothing, if the end is not clearly understood from the outset.
As I said before, this article is not meant to be a lecture on the modern world. I am a product and consumer of many things modern just like many of us. However, I desire this short essay to be an intellectual springboard for us to think deeply and reflectively about our own actions, to slow down and think about the ends before misconstruing the means for the end itself. Our world is not only enticing, but demonically dumbed down. The key to this downfall is what we spoke about in the beginning.
Fear not. It’s a terrifying thing to think you’re the villain in your own book, the monster in your own story. Thank goodness you’re the author as well...