Too Much Love, Never Enough: The Postmodern Culture of Infatuation
Infatutation: foolish or all absorbing passion or an instance of this: a mere infatuation that will not last
“In the modern philosophy….it cannot hope to find any romance, its romances will have no plots. A man cannot expect any adventures in the land of anarchy.” G. K. Chesterton, “Authority and the Adventurer,” 1908
Too much information, this appears to be our crisis du jour. There is more data, and more contexts for data than can ever be reviewed and understood, and much of it is repetitive. Recent studies have shown that we are now reaching limits of “cognitive load.” The problem is not only the amount of information, and the increasing presence of devices that deliver content, but our love of the constant novelty. We cannot stop looking; we cannot tear ourselves away from the internet and not because what we see is so fascinating, but because we love the feeling of fascination.
Media triggers our human capacity for love and awe. There are those online who remain dedicated to serious matters, but many are easily distracted and consumed with passion for cursory knowledge and passing online social interactions. The consistent dedication to websites bears resemblance to love, but the imprudent fascination for changing content is the mark of postmodern infatuation. News stories fire up commentary for a week at most. Twitter topics impassion millions, for a day. Instagram and Tumblr photos are praised, but only for hours. As expressions of admiration increase, novelty decreases and we look for the new with a nagging desire of “never enough.” We stay online seeking to renew our desire again and again, which never rests, so now we take the internet with us everywhere.
The internet is an ideological hunting grounds. As we continually hunt for satisfaction online, we find ourselves driven by the Carson McCullers’ notion of the heart as a lonely hunter. But we can also see in our social media, that the heart longs to be hunted in return. So like every era, we need to love and be loved and our media facilitates it. I wrote on this topic last year and have since seen that as we increase the way we love through technology, we subsequently decrease possible time for physical love in reality and reduce the depth of love communication. We are also allowing devices an increasing co-presence in our time with loved ones. So even if all the time online were dedicated to loving, we are likely allotting less time for love in reality than other generations before us. And while we feel like we are advancing with knowledge more than prior eras, the depth and retention of that information is being seriously questioned.
When G.K. Chesterton wrote “Authority and the Adventurer,” in 1908 he suggested that Darwin has led us to believe that with more knowledge we move from ape to angel, eventually becoming more “spiritual.” To contemporary evolutionary biologists, our drive to stay online is a survival skill. Knowledge is an evolutionary advantage that appeals to our mates and makes us more desirable and powerful in the world. In his recent video, TED Talk guest Jason Silva describes that in addition to spreading our genes, we spread our identities through language, namely the internet, all in an effort to “enrapture” others and gain value in “the currency of attention.” If you know the newest information, you are in line with the hottest thing, even more so if you are the newest information. Yet knowledge only gives advantages in some cases and encumbers in others. The hottest thing may not be the best thing. On the internet, seeking or presenting knowledge occurs in a land of anarchy, rarely clarifying what is really good or what will last in every category, and thus not discerning any absolute best, to the point of exhaustion, until the next infatuation.
While we are called to love without end, we can love with wisdom. Several years ago I heard a sermon by Tim Keller in which he spoke of too much love. He referred to Richard Baxter’s “too much love of the material world.” As it is possible to have too much love of a narcotic, it is possible to have too much love of other things. Puritans were vigilant about too much love of worldly comforts, but what of online comforts? As we occupy the postmodern era, everything online appears to be sanctified as “ok,” nothing is really that bad and anything is available for as much time and attention as you can give it. The heart hunts, and seeks without limit. The heart longs to be hunted, and sought without limit. The heart is built for a love that endures forever and nothing of this world can keep that promise. We must increase awareness of being fascinated by passing infatuations and allow our fascination to be held by what endures. In Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, Francis Chen writes, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” How much of your time online really matters?