It is hard to deny that we live in an exhilarating age. New technologies have facilitated an explosion of entrepreneurship and creativity that could scarcely have been imagined a generation ago. The opportunities now available to each of us at the click of a button are practically limitless. Yet it is becoming clear that we are also in the midst of a crisis, much of it playing out in our internal lives. We have never been so connected, yet we have never felt so separated. Consider the recent reports that have linked new tech to upticks in attention deficit disorder, depression and anxiety disorders, sleep disruption, traffic fatalities, pornography addiction, identity theft, bullying, political polarization and even suicide. We have freedom, yes. We have power. But we don’t always know what to do with our freedom and power.
Unique among writers of a tech-wary bent, Guardini urged his readers to embrace the present fully and without reservation. But he also stressed that they do so with intention. And here we arrive at the aspect of his work that cries out most loudly for a modern audience: Guardini’s advocacy for a new attitude of technology mindfulness, to be exercised at the individual level.
As with his critique, the recommendation has three major components.
First, we must reclaim the interior lives that technology has wrested from us. “Man’s depths must be reawakened,” Guardini writes in Power and Responsibility…
A direct result of this recommitment to contemplation should be a greater sense of self-control. Guardini uses the somewhat loaded term asceticism but defines it in a manner that ought to have broad appeal. “Man must fight for inner health and freedom,” he writes, “against the machinations of advertising, the flood of loud sensationalism, against noise in all its forms…. Asceticism is the refusal to capitulate, the determination to fight them, there at the key bastion—namely, in ourselves.” If I may adapt this for the here and now: We must create space between ourselves and our devices.
Guardini’s final point is the most difficult to grasp and enact: We must reclaim our common, eternal values and make these the impetus for all our decisions—the big decisions like how we raise our children and care for our ailing parents as well as the “small” decisions like how we interact with our devices. “By this I do not mean to follow a program of any kind,” Guardini writes, “but to make the simple responses that always were and always will be right.”
Read the entire piece here.