Modern Disconnection: On Pain and Power

(5 Minute Read)

One of the most impactful classes I took at UCR was a philosophy class called, "Ethics and the Meaning of Life". 

One thing we talked about in class was "pain we should endure" vs. "pain we should avoid". Imbedded in this question is another one, "Is there pain we should endure?" Which really asks, "Can pain be good?"

The argument is that some "pain" (the pain we should endure) provides an opportunity for "grace" to show up in our lives. As technology advances and allows us to "endure less pain", we lose opportunities to encounter "grace" in our lives. What's this mean?

Here's an example, we used to have to "endure the pain" of waiting for seasonal fruits and vegetables. We couldn't get strawberries all year long, so we had to endure the "pain of waiting". Out of this "pain" came harvest festivals. These festivals were a celebration of the particular fruits and vegetables that came with each season. Is this pain we should endure? I don't think so.

Has agricultural technology given us so much power that we take seasonal fruits and vegetables for granted? Do we forget to appreciate what we have? Maybe. 

Let's stretch this exercise. We used to have to endure the pain of walking. Then technology came along, and we can drive everywhere. Does this remove the "grace" of experiencing the beauty of the world and fresh air that we used to get by walking? Should we get rid of all cars and "endure the pain" of walking? I don't think so. In this case, technology helps us. 

However, this doesn't mean we should avoid the pain of walking entirely. We need to move our bodies to stay healthy right? So although technology has given us the power to remove all the pain of walking, doesn't always mean we should be riding go-carts with baskets in our grocery stores. It's a balance.

My TA in that philosophy class observed something similar in his own life. He said before Facebook came along, he used to call his friends on the phone more often to catch up. 

I understand that any point made about social media is a gross generalization, just like any point made about men, women, or Chinese people. Ultimately, it's individuals who decide what their relationship with tools like Facebook looks like. 

That being said, I don't think individuals are thinking as carefully as they could about their relationship with technology. 

Let's look at the evolution of social interaction. First we only had face to face interactions. No technology gave us the power to do otherwise, and we had to endure the "pain of waiting" to be in the same room as someone to interact with them and have a conversation.

Then came mail and the telephone. With the addition of both of these technologies, we were given more "power", and had to "endure less pain". Now we could interact and converse with people miles away. As the power increased, did it remove more pain? Yes. Did it remove some opportunities of grace? Maybe. Was it worth it? Yes. We still had deep interactions and both mail and the telephone fostered those connections. Are there exceptions? Always.

Then came the internet which offered us instant messages and texts. It's basically mail on steroids. It gave us more power and less pain to endure. The key distinction between this and the next jump, is that it's still an active process. We send messages and recipients respond. 

Then social media came along. It became a passive tool. We post things about our lives through photos, a status, and short videos through Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We can passively "stay up to date" on so many peoples lives by tuning into their page. We're given even more power. Within a few minutes on Snapchat, you can literally see what dozens of people have been doing for the last 24 hours. That's a pretty close look. This power removes even more "pain". We don't have to call, or even send a message to find out information about people's lives. For the first time, we can passively and indirectly be involved in someone's life.

But most of the time, it's a one way street of consumption. Not conversation. 

When does too much power take away grace? As technology advances we need to ask the questions of whether or not the power is taking away pain that we should endure. Should we endure the pain of awkward silences in face to face conversations? Should we take away the pain of rejection? Of the complexities in human relationships? 

Less pain and more comfort is not always the answer. There's a saying that goes, "Growth happens outside the comfort zone." You can probably remove the word, "pain" from this post and replace it with "discomfort". Discomfort is underrated. Going to the gym is very uncomfortable, but putting your body under that kind of stress is good for you. You grow. 

In what other ways can discomfort cause growth in our lives?

So, I'm putting this out there and saying I want to have more meals with people. I'm going to set a goal to host one barbecue, big or small, once a week at my house.