In this time of great technological advance, internal problems—anxiety, lack of focus, narrative voids, fragmentation of meaning, estrangement from our kin—can be solved via external means. Not completely, mind you; pain is avoided via an increase in pleasure, lack of purpose is plastered over with tools of distraction, deep work is neglected because we can get by on shallow, insincere contributions, and loneliness is conquered by social media and hookup apps. The aim of modernity, it seems, is to continue this noble work and find a technological fix for every human problem, an external solution for all internal struggles.
It didn’t used to be like this. Whenever I read about antiquity, or the Renaissance period—just two examples—it appears that the average person was more content. Sure, disease and pain and suffering were rife, and the perceptions we have of the past are distorted by the flaws of history, but I suspect the average fellow from way back when suffered less from problems of the spirit than we do. And mostly, I think that was because there was nowhere else to turn except inward. The fervour of religious belief—and the certainty it delivered—would only take a person so far. The rest of the way, the rest of the problems, had to be worked out without technology. By looking at the self, by looking at the world, and figuring it out on your own.
I’m not saying that I’d like to roll back civilisation and surrender all the technological leaps we’ve made. Oh no. I’m just wary that, while technology is wonderful, it makes it very easy for us to opt for temporary solutions to deep, deep problems. For instance, if I’m at home, alone, and feeling isolated, it’s easier for me to jump on Twitter or Reddit and engage in mostly shallow interaction than it is for me to call up a friend or family member and have an honest, intimate conversation. I’m given a choice; one method which is easy and the other which is hard. What am I going to do?