Friday, December 09, 2005

Cyber-Slums

In just about all cities larger than rural towns, you’ll find the “slums,” depressed and degenerating areas where there is often a lot of crime, drugs, prostitution, etc. I don’t intend here to comment on the societal factors from which the slums emerge, only the fact of their existence, only the fact that there are some parts of town in which it is unsafe to walk.

Today many people “surf” more than walk, that is, they spend a lot of time in “cyberspace,” on the Internet, where they can find entertainment, news, information of just about any kind, shopping, opportunities for communication, etc. Cyberspace has its own slums, places that are unsafe to be, and here I’m not even talking about the multifarious forms of pornography that are all too easily accessed. That’s more like cyber-hell, or at least an invitation to the inferno.

The cyber-slums I’m referring to are just across the tracks from people like you and me, who sometimes accidentally wander into them. There are a number of ways to gauge the direction of our high-tech internet culture, if I can ennoble it with that word (I just innocently stumbled across a news item that referred to “raunch culture”—a true oxymoron—with an accompanying photo that made rather simple my decision not to look further into the story). One of the ways to discover the state of the society is to see what the bloggers are saying.

I have said, and I still think it is true, that the advent of blogs is an unprecedented leap in the facilitation of the communication of ideas. Really, for the first time in history, anyone (who has access to a computer) can publish his or her thoughts—for free—to an audience that can be a large as the world. In a sense it is an empowerment for those who otherwise have no voice, and also a way to get all the news and information that the Orwellian major media refuse to let us know, that they try to cover up or distort. And, of course, for someone like me, it is a golden opportunity to preach the Gospel and encourage fidelity to the Church to a much larger number of people than I could by remaining within the monastic enclosure—now I can do both!

But there’s a down side, and it’s a pretty big one. The cyber-slums in the ambivalent world of blogging seem to constitute the greater portion of the virtual landscape. On the home page of the host organization (or whatever you call it) of my blog, they have a rotating list of all the blogs in their domain (thousands, as far as I can guess). Every once in a while I will check out a few of them—ones that don’t have names indicating their decided preference for raunch culture. I have rarely found one that is edifying or even very interesting, and sometimes I find myself in the middle of the slums. (I know that there are many Catholic blogs, some of which are good, though mostly they tend to be chatty, superficial, newsy, or sarcastically critical of current events in and out of the Church. But I’m glad they’re there, frankly, when I see the alternatives, though they don’t really do much to enhance anyone’s spiritual life.)

What I find in the average blog (by “average” I don’t include the occultists, the neo-nazis, the various perverts, etc), is stream-of-consciousness rambling, incoherent or inane diaries, and basically a heaping portion of narcissistic exhibitionism—all the drivel that is interesting to no one. The blog is the ideal tool for the “me-generation” (a dated term, I know, but it still applies). Anyone can vent, preen, run off at the mouth, use the “f-word” as often as he likes, and basically be the snotty, immature, self-centered bore that no one else outside of virtual reality will tolerate. It’s a bit disappointing, to say the least, but it does give us an idea (perhaps we would rather not know) of the low level of intellectual and moral functioning of much of blogging America.

So what do you do? Seek and you shall find, for starters. Internet searches for specific Catholic topics can lead to you to some helpful and edifying sites. But try to stay away from the slums. It’s a waste of time and might even be a near occasion of sin. And once you’ve read a lot of beneficial stuff, maybe you would like to share your faith with the world. Start your own blog—why not? Why let all the ditzy babblers and godless frog-mouths fill up the cybersphere? We could be “Bloggers for Christ,” and have T-shirts made up or something. Anyway, there’s much hope, much potential for spreading the word of God. Let us pray that Holy Spirit will inspire all righteous and sincere efforts to bring God’s truth and love to this electronic generation, and let’s build the City of God over the ruins of the cyber-slums.