Posted by: keepfishing | February 26, 2009

Media Fasts and How Technology≠Happiness

Recently, I spent 4 weeks away studying at a community called L’Abri. One of the aspects of the community life is something of a media fast. It’s not a total blackout, because there’s still a newspaper,  you can book chunks of internet time at certain points of the day and if you really want, you can walk to the pub and use the free WiFi (quaffing tasty ale in a quiet English pub listening to 3 Americans talk loudly on Skype is a less than pleasant experience).

My experience, however, was of an almost total internet blackout. Save checking emails every 3 days or so and occasional searching for jobs, I had a month without. Which left my RSS feed numbering several hundred unread, the new season of Lost unwatched (please don’t tell me anything!) and a refreshing release from Facebook and its annoyingly addictive Scramble app. 

And the nice thing is, I don’t feel any sense of loss. It’s nice to have it back, and Facebook back to see how my friends are getting on (although if anyone else sends me another ‘I don’t normally forward these things but here’s another 25 things you didn’t know about me and didn’t really care about’ I might throw the laptop through the window. This is an interesting perspective on the phenomenon), but it’s also nice to know that I can have a productive life without it, and without any withdrawl pangs.

Anyway, that vaguely brings me to this, namely that technology is arguably pointless. That’s a rather rash statement that I’ve pulled out my head, but I find provocativeness encourages debate. My limited understanding of humanism is that it’s a philosophy given to the improvement human wellbeing and progress. Given that human progress is rather hard to define, I’ll largely ignore that and focus on human wellbeing and happiness.

We’ve long been told by marketers that technological progresses will make us happier. Our cars will drive faster and we’ll get places quicker, get more things done and be happier. Our dishwashers will wash our entire crockery collection and bake a loaf of bread at the same time, allowing us to keep our nails clean, and we’ll be happy. 

But we’re not. I’ve been reading A Moral Climate and somewhere in there (I don’t have it to hand), it references an article that claims that happiness indexes in the developed world haven’t risen for 30 years. 30 years?? We’ve invented the internet on buses trains and planes, can keep 3 trillion songs in our pocket, but aren’t any happier than we were when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Idi Amin was disposed and Sony started selling a device that allowed us to keep a whole album in our pockets. 

If we’re not happier, then why not?

To be honest, I have no answers, merely a few disconnected thoughts. But more pertinently, I’m wondering why is no-one asking the question? We’re no happier, but we’re still more than happy to believe the next marketing lie.

Anyway, if you’ve still got the energy, here’s an extremely entertaining rant about this very topic. The truth, through comedy, is a wonderful thing.

“Everything’s amazing, nobody’s happy”


  1. is it bad that I still want an Aston Martin Vanquish?

  2. Everyone wants an Aston Martin, BK. It only becomes bad when you want it more than you want to bless and serve other people.

    And for me that is the answer – its all about other people. Life is relational. Self awareness is good, but selfishness and introspection mean we’re like the people on the plane in the youtube clip (which i loved) – so busy focusing on ourselves to see the big picture – really dangerous. i’m really bad at this.

    Technology, music, sport, work, trade… lots of things and lots of activities in life are of themselves pretty nuetral, i think. They can be used for good or for evil, and what defines which is which is often about how they affect other people. I know that i’ve used technology at times to bless other people. i know i’ve used it at times to exploit other people. New and better technology will not solve this problem – a new and better me will.

    I like the Amish’s approach to new technology. I think they’re asking the right questions, even if i don’t entirely agree with all of their answers.

    In my experience, happiness is about being in right relationships with those around you – not focusing on yourself, but taking pleasure in the company and success of those around you, in giving of yourself to others.

    Lent is a good time to think about challenging the hold that our culture and lifestyle can have over us – how all the amazing can make us selfish and miserable rather than generous and happy. A good way to do this is to sign up for Tearfund’s Carbon Fast. All kinds of challenging.

    Good to have you back online mate – always good to read your thoughts. Look forward to hearing more about your L’Abri experience the next time i randomly bump in to you. cheers.

  3. @Linus – Not everyone does. Some people want Bugattis, Ferrari Enzos and Alfa Romeos.

    And sadly I have to admit that sometimes I want ‘stuff’ more than I want to serve other people. I know that’s not cool. But if I’m being honest…?

    Carbon Fast sounds cool, but realistically can’t do much more than I already do in terms of recycling and transport use. I’m having to use Cassie more and more because of the carnage of Edinburgh’s roads just now.

    I’m doing a pretty cool thing for Lent on Twitter called ‘Love Life Live Lent’. I think it’s started by the church of england but each day they give you a prompt to do something via Twitter.

    So far I’ve had a day of letting people in front of me in queues, skipped a meal and used money to go to an overseas charity, said nice things about people behind their backs, prayed for people who are unwell/in need and I’ve still to do Saturday’s prompt of a declutter spree.

    It has been helpful to try and come up with creative ways to do some of the things so far. And as you say, helped take the focus away from ‘me’ to other people.

  4. why is it that whenever anyone says “ferrari enzo”, i have this mental image of a small, red, sesame street character driving a large red sportscar?

    personally, if i could have any car in the world, any car at all, i would probably go for a mark II polo… but hey, that’s all just part of my idiosyncratic way of looking at the world i guess.

    Honesty is a good starting point. Me too. Hello, my pseudonym is Linus, and i am a selfishaholic. The first step is always admitting the problem…

    Hope the declutter goes well. declutter is on my list of things to do as well. Problem is, most of the things on that list have been there for a year or two now… =]

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