Online With Dr. Faust

“The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes,”  Goethe said.  After going online this morning, I have seen what is right in front of my eyes, and I rather I hadn’t.

Have I been asleep, blind, or both?  How else to explain my previous failure to perceive the proliferation of creatures that are half-human, half-machines?

Compensating childhood memories return of John Glenn fully clad in his Mercury spacesuit armor, almost indistinguishable from his cockpit, seamlessly part of his spectacular shiny vessel.  The Age of Heroes.  Now, cyberspace is being expanded, penetrated and poked at by anyone.

And anyone is everywhere.  I am surrounded by people attached to machines, and vice-versa.  Having no handheld telecommunications device, I experience a post-modern solitude, alone in the midst of people using their devices. I see them, but they do not see me: their minds are elsewhere.  They are each in a different place, distinct time zone, far from the here and now which keeps me company.

I see that individuals are not, as they suppose, using technology, but are themselves appendages of technology, consumers in the process of being consumed, hunters captured by the game.

When I see a post-human clutching a cellular device, or aglow before a computer screen, I instantly imagine the person vanishing into the device head-first, their legs wriggling helplessly as from the jaws of a lion.

People talk about the “singularity” – a post-human future convergence where man and machine morph into one.  But that moment has arrived, and the post-humans with it.

Thinking of Mr. Goethe, I am reminded of his play, Dr. Faust.  The tragedy tells the story of the eponymous scholar and magician who enters into a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for boundless worldly knowledge and limitless personal experiences.

Sounds like the Internet, doesn’t it?  Offering an endless supply of information, services and ways to communicate with fellow post-humans? Like the Devil, the spiders on this vast web prey on our human foibles: our curiosity, desire for gossip and titillation, our voyeuristic tendencies.  It offers, if one so desires, a Faust-like omniscience plus a diabolical cloak of anonymity in which we can become anyone, or say anything with no concern – much less responsibility – for our consequences.

Online, we feel unusually free.  Yet we are slaves.  Our horizons are delimited by algorithms that tailor what we see according to our past behavior.  The Internet user feels he is on a mountaintop, the world his to survey, but is instead on a treadmill of feedback loops.  Even without the NSA getting involved, every time we log on we sacrifice our privacy, rending us prized data for marketers.

The statistics on Internet usage are startling.  American spend five hours, nine minutes on the Internet each day, in addition to four hours, 31 minutes watching television; add it up and the average media diet equals 147 24-hour days, more than a third of your year.  I’m reminded of the French expression, “It’s one thing to go into a whorehouse; it’s another thing to never come out of it.”

Each time we use the Internet, we sacrifice our time, our perception, our senses, ourselves.  Since 80% of human communication is non-verbal, we become fractions of our social selves.  In the Internet we have migrated to a sensory deprivation chamber: a zone where we are stripped of physicality, the human touch, voice and gaze, fragrance, dimensions, weather, spontaneous dialogue.

And what of boredom?  And the dreams and insights that follow?  It is often overlooked that both Dr. Faust and the Devil lost – and won – in the bargain.  Attention and awareness – and even their gauzy gaps and spongy pauses – are the soul of our relationships and personal development: the sunshine that brings us to life.

For those who seek a respite from media saturation, the ultimate antidote is the garden.  In your yard is a realm of beauty, color, fragrance, a panoply of forms, dimension, authenticity, and truth.  The gardener is attuned to the life of plants, the seasons, sunlight, the earth, weather, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  In creating and nurturing a garden, you can see (and taste) the results of your efforts.  The garden is a place to connect with nature, ourselves and each other: the ultimate social network – vividly and easily there right in front of your eyes.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 19th, 2013 at 1:43 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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18 Responses to “Online With Dr. Faust”

  1. Alda Stich said:

    In Maine, this is a fine way to relieve boredom.
    I hope you will partake at least once in your life. With best wishes to all,
    Alda Stich

    • George said:

      Thanks, Alda. You have been a faithful reader. Hope to make your acquaintance one day.

  2. Mary Walczyk said:

    While I appreciate many aspects of this social technology, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Posting is not communicating on the level where your humanity is a factor. Oftentimes messages are misinterpreted without the tone of a voice or a look in the eye. We must be sure to leaven our online activity with personal contact.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Mary. I’m less optimistic, sorry to say. Edward T. Hall authored the research on the preponderance of non-verbal communication. It’s 80% of our communication, more or less; research is still being done. I, for one, believe the sheer quantity of online social media-based dialogues is weighing down and effectively depressing our society. Also, it extinguishes much hope for literacy improvement in the young—for whom it matters most.

  3. Pam Ruch said:

    It is so easy to be sucked into the machine world, and not because it is a machine, but because it is the amalgamation of us, all of us. We look forward to the almost instantaneous response from someone, anyone, who cares. It is an effort to walk outside, down the road, into the forest, but when we do the rewards are so rich that we wonder why we do not do it every day. This is the real challenge of the environmentalist: convincing the modern, device-connected person that what s/he will miss by disconnecting from the device is not nearly as valuable as what s/he will gain by connecting with nature.

    • George said:

      Thanks, Pam, for a thoughtful post. I think it’s more the machines than us—the technology is marketed and sold very effectively. Technology replaces creativity. We don’t create—sing, rhapsodize, dance, play musical instruments. It is sad. For a brilliant and relevant interview with my friend and former English professor, the poet Robert Kelly, please go to
      Thanks again, Pam.

  4. Celia L. Tippit said:

    Amen! Thank you so much for your concise, succinct, and thoughtful words about the technological morass that has numbed so many to other persons, experiences, and, most important, self evaluation.

    Thank goodness for gardens and gardeners; we are relatively unscathed by the godless grip on souls and psyches and dreams………..

    • George said:

      Thank you, Celia, especially the point, “self-evaluation”. You, too, would enjoy Kelly’s descriptions of growing up in 1950s Brooklyn.

  5. Julie Frontino said:

    What a lovely image in the garden!

    • George said:

      Thank you, Julie. Please post again.

  6. MPD said:

    It is dawn in Hawaii.Just now waking near by to the constant sounds a waterfall,I’m seeing the first colors of the day.
    Ironic that to be able to tell you this, I’m using keys and a wireless connection,just to say “Wish you were here in Kalaniapia..”.
    We are growing away from ourselves day by day.Dr. Goethe would be proud.

    • George said:

      Oddly, the worlds of poetry and the short essay form are exceptions to this rule you point out accurately. These exceptions would have included Whitman and certainly William Blake. Even Melville would have had a blog, I think. They may not have been so completely forgotten in their lifetimes. (Herman Melville’s obit began “Henry Melville…”)
      Cheers, Patricia, and hope you are loving Hawaii.

  7. P Rinaldi said:

    Kudos. Well written

    • George said:

      Thank you very much PR. Please post again.

  8. Sandy Rosner said:

    At my house we have a radio record and CD player and telephone. I spend some time keeping the dishes clean and the house neat. I listen to enjoyable music and I have a little greenhouse though there isn’t anything but a volunteer tomato plant growing right now. I have a bird feeder and watch the birds. I try to fix things when they are broken in my shed which has a old kerosene heater. My garden is in resting mode and I am looking at seed catalogs. I do get on the internet for brief stays and got to read your post regardomg Dr. Faust. It was good. As for me, no deals with the devil, because Jesus is my Lord and Savior.

    • George said:

      God bless you, Sandy. Please post again. Most eloquent, as well as extremely resonant with me.

  9. Janice Gerdemann said:

    This is a most interesting conversation – courtesy of the very machines we are denigrating. I am a conservationist, gardener, trail wanderer and now confined (at advanced age) to a group home.

    I do what I can watch variety of birds at my feeders, utilize public buses to visit gardens and natural areas. Thanks everybody for comments I enjoyed.

  10. Pam Ruch said:

    Thanks for the link, George. A very long interview — I will take the time, at some time. Early on he says “leave the child alone. The child needs hours every day alone with his body, his sense of order, rhythm, movement, time.” which may (or may not) be central to his point. It rings very true, nonetheless. As one of seven, I cherished solitude, and I still do, when it is hard to come by. When there is too much of it, a different story. The solitary walk in the woods has great value, and is practiced less and less. A great loss in our modern age.

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