What Paul Tillich told me about the Internet

The search for meaning and permanence in a modern life.

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Remember when I talked about communities and the Internet and self-discipline? And I wavered with whether to commit to Pinterest?  I joined.  Luckily my nightmares didn’t come to fruition – I don’t spend hours crazily pinning only to emerge in a daze, inexplicable tired.

The best thing about joining that website is the visual stimuli.  The worst is that it does nothing to curtail my hours on the internet.  When I had a job, I thought an hour a day of the internet was plenty.  Now that I am home most hours a day, my time logged has slipped up to 3 or more hours a day.

I have to ask myself, Why do I love the internet? It’s a complex question for some, myself included, and psychologists and sociologists are often studying this compulsion.

One of the answers I found in my self reflection includes the comforting feeling that when I am on the internet, I feel as though I am in touch with a stream of knowledge.  Even though I may not be actively pursuing that knowledge because I am flipping through facebook photo albums, it is at my fingertips.  By proxy, I must be dazzlingly smart.

Another answer is that I feel a sense of community when I engage in what feels like a contribution to others.  I’m not intellectually convinced that this is entirely a false thing.  Nor am I convinced it’s healthy, however.

A third reason is that I am engaged in a search for meaning, and being in a place which seems to offer both community and creation and knowledge certainly holds addicting appeal.

This is very close to what Paul Tillch wrote in the second chapter of The Courage to Be (which my reading group discussed last Thursday). 

The anxiety of meaninglessness is anxiety about the loss of an ultimate concern, of a meaning which gives meaning to all meanings.  This anxiety is aroused by the loss of a spiritual center, of an answer, however symbolic and indirect, to the question of the meaning of existence. The anxiety of emptiness is aroused by the threat of nonbeing to the special contents of the spiritual life… Everything is tried and nothing satisfies…. The anxiety of emptiness drives us into the abyss of meaninglessness.

How does this relate?  Well, Tillich has built on his first chapter, where he declared that self-affirmation is the highest and ultimate good of man.  (This is not self-affirmation in the sense of selfishness (p.22) but in the sense of divine self-affirmation, a participation of the soul in both knowledge and love.)

I’m engaged in a search for meaning, and self-affirmation.  I’m often anxious that I may not be creating something.  I’m also more anxious that the things I’m creating are limited and transitory.  As a result of all these things, it’s very easy to turn to the internet as a way to stretch the limits of creativity, to feel that what I create online may have meaning and permanence for “real.”  Or that the ability to enter into a dialogue with millions means that I am creating.  Somehow, that all of these “bits and bytes” may last forever, and so will I.

Is this true?  Again, I’m actually not sure.  Part of me believes that knowledge (whatever type it may be) is always beneficial.  The other part knows from Ecclesiastes 12:12 that study is endless and wearying.  Another part feels that the internet will last forever and continue forever.  But again, as Isaiah (40:8) already let us know flowers wither and fade, and truly nothing but the word of the Lord is forever.

I am anxious about my mortality, and frustrated with my limits.  The internet appears to be able to extend my limits, but this may just be a trompe l’oeil.  What is the ulimate solution?  I’ve got ideas, but I’m also interested to see what Paul Tillich will reveal in his book, The Courage to Be.  So far he’s encouraged me to question my internet tendency’s and to question what’s normal in seeking so much solace from something that’s large, but limited.

For more Trompe L’oeil check out The Swelle Life.

Author: Beth M

Life Lessons, Parenting, Books, Sustainability.

4 thoughts on “What Paul Tillich told me about the Internet”

  1. Hello! You “liked” a post of mine and subscribed to my blog! I’m thrilled, but more than that, I was excited to read a little of your writing, which I very much connect with. In fact, this post about the internet is pretty much SPOT ON with part of what I am writing about- how people find community in different ways. One of my characters finds community in the wide open world of communal virtual knowledge. I look forward to reading more of your wrestling with “adulthood” and meaning. Keep it up.

    1. Thanks. I saw your blog, and thought, “How cool! This girl is writing a novel on the internet.” I’m Looking forward to future stories and chapters.

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