Irrelevant Digression – The Sunset Limited

Book Review – “The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul” by Jean-Claude Larchet

Jean-Claude Larchet is one of the world’s leading philosophers and an expert in Orthodox Christian Patristics; he has written over 25 books and countless articles. His latest book is on a topic everyone reading this can surely relate to: the new media—the Internet, smart phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. While he writes in an easy to read and sober manner, his matter-of-fact analysis is so alarming—without being alarmist—that the attentive reader is sure to be shaken. Indeed, the word “epidemic” in his title is not hyperbole; he believes and clearly shows that the new media are producing illness and destruction on a mass scale, unlike anything seen before in human history. If he were not such a careful and sober writer one might be quick to conclude from his analysis that we are in the Last Days. 

After a very short introduction setting out the aim of the book, he proceeds to the first chapter, “Invasion,” which briefly describes “digital colonization” and the new media one by one. Although he admits television is not “new” he nonetheless discusses it with the newer media, both here and elsewhere, for it has not been supplanted by new media and in fact “coexists with them, either in parallel or as their partner” (5).

Chapter 2, “When the Medium replaces the Message,” considers Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” and explains its relevance to the paradigm shift we are currently undergoing. The content of media is not nearly as important as the technological medium itself, which changes the brain and indeed the human person. He frequently quotes from Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows, twice quoting the following passage: “If, knowing what we do today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet” (15). The chapter ends by concluding that for many the new media have become idols, quoting from the premonitory Psalm 113 (verses 13-16), and denominating the new type of human being emerging, homo connecticus.

Chapter 3, “The Tyranny of the New Mediators,” begins with an epigraph from Revelation: “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” which he then repeats later in the chapter (20). As he says, when digital implants into the human body replace credit cards, “Mediation will then have reached its extreme, which is described thus in the book of Revelation” (20). The idea behind the mediators’ revolution is not only to change us, but to ascend themselves to Godlike omniscience. For instance, the purpose of Google’s self-driving car is not our comfort and safety, nor even ultimately financial profit, but rather to gather as much data as possible on our driving habits, preferred destinations, who we travel with, what music we listen to, etc. (21). But the real danger involves our focusing outward instead of inward, as in traditional societies; a change which of course predates digital media but is now accelerating to increasingly dangerous proportions. He concludes the chapter by saying: “the new media have created a system of estrangement never seen before, while projecting the illusion that they increase our power and freedom” (22). 

Chapter 4, “Shrinking Time and Distance” describes how the new media have changed the nature of space and time. Space, of course, by instantaneous communication with anyone anywhere, and time by “removing its continuity to make it broken, piecemeal, and scattered” (25). While we were promised the new media would bring us more time, we in fact have less time than ever before.

In Chapter 5, “The Destruction of Interpersonal Relationships,” Larchet returns to another of McLuhan’s famous concepts, the Global Village, which, he says, “is not a real village, for the neighbors are not real neighbors, the kinsman real kinsman, or the friends real friends” (36), an obvious reference to the manipulation of the word “friend” by Facebook. In fact, we learn here that the creators of Facebook “never for a moment wished to create links of friendship between users. The aim of the like is to flatter the ego of the one who receives it” (47). Larchet discusses the Orthodox concept, hesychia: the deep calm and solitude needed for spiritual development, which the incessant interruptions and diverting claims on the attention by the new media make impossible. The disembodied virtual world we inhabit is opposed not only to calm and solitude but to real communication and real community. What matters is the messages, not the content of the messages—at least for people who need a constant influx of text messages, emails, and “likes” to feel validation. Modern man is turning in on himself and in panic of genuine intimate relationships, and this is causing widespread autism. There is a multitude of issues discussed in this chapter which I do not have the space to consider, but the end of it all is a tendency toward psychopathology and schizophrenia. 

In chapter 6, “Evil Encounters,” Larchet discusses the dark web, the many studies diagnosing the ill effects of television, and much more. He produces statistical proof that the incessant sex and violence on the television has done great damage to the young, and further evidence of the damage caused by video games and the Internet. For instance, “65% of Internet searches conducted by young Americans between 10 and 16 years old are for pornographic sites” (57). 

In chapter 7, “The Abolition of Private Life,” we see that Big Brother, Orwell’s image of the intrusive totalitarian state, “is no longer fiction” (69). The details he adduces will scare the hell out of you, but it is essential that we know these things. 

In Chapter 8, “The Denial of the Body and Its Effect on Health,” he quotes the French writer Michel Desmurget: “Imagine a recreational substance whose consumption would increase considerably the incidence of obesity, smoking, alcoholism, sleep disorders, attempted suicides, dangerous sexual habits and eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia). Would you accept this substance into your home? Would you allow your children to use it?” (76). Desmurget is talking about the television; the new media have only increased such problems. 

The next five chapters are titled, “The Dominance of the Virtual over the Real,” “Mental Disorders,” “Dumbing Down the Mind,” “The Impoverishment of Spiritual Life,” and “Prevention and Treatment.” I will summarize some of the salient points as I conclude this review.

First of all, it should be noted that the executives of the new media industry themselves keep their products out of the hands of their own children, or else strictly limit the time they are allowed to use these devises. “Chamath Palihapitiya, the former vice-president in charge of user growth at Facebook, said at a Stanford Business School event: ‘I don’t use this shit and my kids are not allowed to use this shit either’” (167). This new media revolution is designed to enslave and destroy us, and its creators know it. Former Facebook executive Sean Parker said: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains” (111). Larchet mentions a famous photograph of a bareheaded Mark Zuckerberg at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona which shows him amid a group of people all wearing headsets: “They all looked like cyborgs, staring straight ahead at a reality that does not exist, totally unaware of each other, and of the king of their world, striding toward them and savoring his power” (88).

Despite the atheist ethos of the world we now inhabit, the fact is that a new religion is arising, and it is associated with Transhumanism, by which, “they hope to conquer the world.” However, this new religion and its “new man” are “transposed from the spiritual level to the material level, and are to be brought about not by the Grace of the all-powerful God but by the promethean force of man, helped by the technologies he has invented to conquer nature” (141). If you have not heard of Transhumanism before, it is extremely important that you come to some understanding of what it is, and this book is a great place to start.[1]

The new media provoke and feed the passions, disperse our faculties and destroy hesychia. Larchet stresses the need for nepsis, vigilance, and the need for attention, prayer, and fasting—not only fasting from certain foods during prescribed times, but from media as well.

There is a plethora of vital information in The New Media Epidemic; unfortunately, I could only touch on a very small number of the problems Larchet describes as well as the solutions he suggests. This is a very important book.


[1] For an interesting discussion of the “Superman” that Transhumanism promises to bestow upon the world, see my book Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism. In the last chapter I quote a NASA scientist who says evolution has brought us to the “Supreme Mind,” which will “eventually reach immense power. It will be able to move all over the Universe, to control and use its laws. It will become God, if the notion of God implies something that knows and does everything. In other words, Man will become God.” Quoted in Matthew Yde, Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism: Longing for Utopia (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 207.

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