Spirituality for Today – June 2013 – Volume 17, Issue 11

Cyber Mountain Man

Rev. Raymond Petrucci

A photo montage of contemporary media devices

Jedediah Smith, John Colter, and Jim Bridger are just a few of the names of that hardy and adventurous group of individuals known as "mountain men." They explored the great American West, traversing the length and breadth of the Rocky Mountains and beyond. Today, there is a new breed of solitary folk who traverse the cyber landscape maintaining their distance from other humans and preferring the electronic wilderness instead. The extreme of this alienation from human contact may be found in the Japanese phenomenon of the hikikomori or young adults who want to be friendless and instead function in a world of video games and the Internet.

Undeniably, we all function in the electronic world. You and I are sharing in it right now. I am sure that we use a number of products within this electronic atmosphere to communicate with others, pay bills, gain information, be entertained, buy items of interest, and more. In the mind of some, there are monsters lurking in the high grass of the cyber meadow. The author, Christine Rosen speaks of a new type of social anxiety emerging from all of the communicating we do electronically. We like the idea of not having to feel coerced into long, unwanted conversations via telephone, but we are becoming anxious that e-mails and texts tend to put us out there as it were. One might be reminded of the old saying, "Never put it in writing." We are nervous about the thought that our comments are available to a world of people to possess and, perhaps, use against us. She also states that the larger the network of "friends" that individuals have leads to the belief that everyone else enjoy a happier, healthier, and all around better life than they do. Scientists are beginning to study the emotional impact of what Rosen calls "electronic intimacy."

We are well on our way to becoming an incredibly disconnected connected society. True/Slant Network

[Source: The Call of the Future, Tom Vanderbuilt, Wilson Quarterly]

You may agree with me that there is a deleterious effect to the expectation of immediacy to our social and professional interactions. There is a psychological strain to wanting, having, and expecting everything NOW. The world of the "New York minute" isn't going to go away, but we better be aware of how the need of immediacy can disturb our psyche. The ancient philosophers remind us that a person who enjoys great results born of activity depended on adequate time for leisure. And how precious is the attainment of something after a lengthy labor or the arrival of someone whom we have longed to see. There is an emotional loss in immediate gratification; a theft of a feeling that needs to be slowly savored. Rosen writes, "No wonder we turn to time management gurus for advice on how to extract the most out of every minute of the day, and rely on social networking sites to keep our far-flung friends and family informed about our lives. Longing suggests languid hours for contemplation – a luxury for most people today. But perhaps we should see it instead as a necessity, an antidote to the excesses of a hectic, wired world." As with so many aspects of human nature, the ancients were wise indeed.

Somewhere in the future there will be a theological discipline devoted to understanding the spiritual implications of the Internet and its ethical use. We may also grow more aware of the need for a contemplative approach to the experience of being alive and to develop the capacity for quietly and leisurely being present before the mystery of God and his creation. I close by praying that this Internet message cast adrift upon the oceans of the cyber world may reach someone's Internet shore and receive a warm welcome.