FGF E-Package
View From The North
February 14, 2008

Wired and Wireless
by Mark Wegierski

The terms wired and wireless refer to different technologies. In an earlier age, wireless referred to a form of radio that allowed two-way communication without a physical line. Today, these terms may be used to distinguish between two-way or multi-way electronic communication tied to a physical telephone or cable line and electronic communication without a physical link. Nevertheless, both technologies are mostly tied to another form of wire, that is, a steady supply of electric current to the individual receiving device.

Whether one is using wire-based or wireless technology, one could still be called wired or connected to the global electronic system or some part thereof. The difference between being wired/wireless and not — for example, not being connected to the Internet — is not necessarily a difference of power or status. Many people can live successfully without the Internet. However, for many of the relations among states as well as nonstate actors today, there is a considerable degree of correlation between the power-status of a given entity and the degree to which its population is wired. In North America, of course, virtually every young person simply has to be wired.

The contrast between the wired/wireless and unwired areas around the world is roughly that between the First World and the Third World. Almost everyone in Canada or America can afford an Internet-capable computer if he wants it. In the Third World, Internet access is not as easy to come by; when it is available, it can make enormous differences in people’s lives. People in remote areas can now access educational and medical facilities in urban areas, or check weather projections, or find markets for their crops.

In Canada and the United States, though, the term wired conveys the feeling of being interconnected, part of a hip group; the term is also a synonym for being “keyed up” or “high.” One can certainly perceive the unbelievable acceleration of life today, especially for young people, who seem always to be on the Internet, listening to loud rock or rap music (whether through speakers or on their earphones), talking or otherwise interacting on a cell phone or similar device, playing video games, or (more rarely now) watching television. Many people immerse themselves in a world of entertainment, such as massive multiplayer on-line role-playing games (MMORPGs).

There are consequences to this development.

First, critics of technology argue that most people today do not take the time for real solitude and reflection. The lure of quick on-line interaction can be a far less-demanding path than time with oneself without distraction.

Second is the new illiteracy, which disproportionately affects the young. Increasingly, children and teens are choosing the quick answers offered on-line to the challenge and reward of reading more difficult materials.

Third, many adults spend an enormous amount of time at their often soul-deadening jobs. People spend so much time on-line that they can have little left over for meaningful family relationships. The surging tide of multimedia available on the Internet can be overwhelming.

Fourth, many people mistakenly believe being wired means they are free of restrictions. They do not see themselves as puppets dancing on anyone's string. However, being on-line often creates for the user a matrix of existence (a media/entertainment information barrage) that embraces many prevalent aspects of the current-day world, including political correctness. Paradoxically, many people today who believe themselves utterly free are in fact in thrall to various forms of political correctness, consumerism, pseudo religion, or ersatz patriotism.

If the term wired means interconnected, there is a sense in which many people immersed in the electronic media field are in fact unwired. They lack grounding or rootedness — they are not tied to anything truly worthwhile. Indeed, they are living recklessly, like acrobatic performers without wires who have no support systems should their scrambled display fail.

The people who are the most wired — immersed in the media electronic field that mostly emphasizes different combinations of political correctness, consumerism, and antinomianism — are actually unwired in the sense of being rootless. At the same time, people in the world who are less wired or not wired at all are often tied to a more traditional sense of place, religion, and family. They are wired to something higher than the merely electronic world.

The electronically wired are in many cases wired to the consumerist and antinomian pop culture; the electronically unwired are in many cases wired to long-enduring traditional, religious, and historical identities.

The people who are both electronically wired and wired to long-enduring traditional identities (or some interpretation or residues thereof) may include some of the best as well as worst people on the planet today. There are battles over interpretations of tradition, among different traditions, and against the relentless pressures of the late modern world. As Pope John Paul II noted in his last major book, Memory and Identity, much of the real core of a worthy human existence may consist of reflective memory and rooted identity.

This is indeed a period of the sharpest, worldwide culture wars, where the future of humanity may be set on certain trajectories for decades, centuries, or even millennia to come. It is a setting where actual armed conflicts may be just the tip of the iceberg; it is the battle of ideas that sets the conditions under which armed force may or may not be exercised. Although in Canada and America today almost no one (except aborted babies) is actually getting killed in large numbers, this does not mean that the social, political, and cultural conditions are necessarily salubrious.

Let us hope that the more decent-minded traditionalists and people of faith everywhere can navigate the path for their societies between extremists of tradition like the Taliban, and the hypermoderns of the late modern West, with their global agenda of polymorphous perversity.

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